October 29, 2020 10:41:25 AM
Clay County Sheriff's Office and E911 Office were without access to a national database of crime information for a month after AT&T cut off the offices' services due to what a company spokesperson said was a "billing error."
AT&T technicians were working to restore the connection on Wednesday, said both AT&T Public Relations Manager Megan Daly and Public Service Commissioner for Mississippi's Northern District Brandon Presley. Daly said as of 9:30 a.m. today connection had been restored.
Presley on Tuesday called for the PSC Public Utilities Staff to investigate AT&T for the error.
The service AT&T provides CCSO and E911 connects E911 to the National Crime Information Center, Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott told The Dispatch. Law enforcement officers and E911 operators connect to NCIC to run drivers licenses and vehicle tag numbers, check for arrest warrants, receive safety alerts and complete other day-to-day operations.
Clay County first lost access to NCIC on Sept. 28 after a storm damaged the CCSO and E911 terminals that connect their offices to the database, Scott and Presley told The Dispatch on Wednesday. While in the process of repairing the terminals, AT&T employees discovered there was $67,000 owed on the equipment and services. The company cut off the service without notifying the county.
Scott said he had been under the impression AT&T simply hadn't yet fixed the equipment until earlier this week when county Emergency Management Agency and E911 Director Torrey Williams learned about the bill. Scott and Williams then contacted Presley about the issue.
"We paid what we've been billed on the 10th every month," Scott said. "Then all of a sudden, without any discussion at all, without even contacting the courthouse, myself, anybody, they apparently took it upon themselves to just cut our service off, which thoroughly ticked me off."
Daly apologized for the company's error in an email to The Dispatch Wednesday night.
"We are working quickly to fully restore service to the Clay County Sheriff's Department after some data lines were disconnected due to a billing error," the email said. "We apologize for the inconvenience."
Presley said that while the Public Service Commission is still trying to determine what happened, the bill may have been sent to the Department of Public Safety, which used to pay for the service on behalf of the county. Presley said he is still investigating whether DPS was supposed to pay the bill or whether AT&T was supposed to bill Clay County for the $67,000.
Presley said that does not excuse AT&T for taking so long to repair the equipment and cutting off the county's connection to NCIC.
"There's been an equipment issue there that they could not get AT&T to come in and repair," Presley said. "Secondly for the sheriff's office, AT&T claims that they owe bills that they've never rendered to the county. ... So AT&T, rather than finding that discrepancy and trying to get to the bottom of it, cut them off. Clay County doesn't appear to be at fault because Clay County never received a bill for this. They've been paying the bills that were sent them the whole time, and then AT&T shuts them off."
Scott said access to NCIC is critical for law enforcement, even comparing it at one point to cutting off water at a hospital.
He said his officers had been calling other agencies, such as sheriff's offices in nearby counties and Mississippi Highway Patrol, when they needed access to NCIC information.
"We're constantly running tags, drivers licenses. It's just ... 100 times a day probably easily," he said. "That ain't even including all the other stuff we do, background checks. We do background checks for Navistar ... for the hospital, for the nursing homes. I mean, it's just all kinds of stuff that we do."
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