WASHINGTON - What was billed as a public safety event to discuss beefed-up police patrols at busy shopping areas this holiday season turned into a rally with the city’s top brass throwing their support behind Karima Holmes.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser led the call for the D.C. Council to give Holmes – who is currently the interim Office of Unified Communications director – a confirmation hearing.
The calls from the mayor – supported by both the D.C. Police and Fire chiefs – arrive one day after the head of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee confirmed he will not hold a hearing, and is instead planning to send her nomination straight up to the full council for a vote on Tuesday.
FOX 5 was told several council members are planning to vote "no."
"I am proud to say we have invested in OUC, and we have outstanding leadership at OUC," Bowser said at the holiday safety news conference. "I nominated Karima in the Spring. What’s wrong with the normal process and giving this woman a hearing?
"[She's] a nationally recognized expert," Bowser added.
"She’s been able to make her case many times before the council over these 6 years, but unfortunately the case isn’t a good one. There have been 11 deaths we’ve uncovered over 3 years – 10 of them over her watch," said public safety advocate Dave Statter, who has been tracking OUC call-taker issues for years.
Statter said on Friday he can’t recall the last time he’s seen Holmes participate in a public safety event as she did on Friday.
Holmes stepped down from the agency in 2020. Mayor Bowser nominated her again.
The Office of Unified of Communications, which runs the city’s 911 call centers, has been under a microscope these past several months especially.
In September, the D.C. Auditor released a second damaging report on the agency, saying many of the important safety recommendations previously made still have not been implemented.
This past fall, the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee also held an extensive two-part oversight hearing, where the public heard from interim director Holmes, her supporters, the union, as well as families of the victims connected to some of these emergency call errors.
One of the most covered incidents continues to be the 2020 death of 59-year-old Sheila Shepperd, whose daughter was left to perform CPR on her mother for over 20 minutes because a call taker sent first responders to the wrong quadrant.
"She was 13 years old, less than 100 lbs, trying to do chest pumps on her mother, who was twice her size," said Sheila Shepperd’s mother, Billie Shepperd, during the first portion of the 911 call center oversight hearing in September. "Who is appointed in the top job? The buck does stop and begin at that point before one can effectively achieve change."
"What it’s been like for me is unbelievable. Um, I have answered every question. I have every piece of document. I have investigated every call," Holmes said at the news conference.
Asked on Friday whether she had reached out to Billie Shepperd or what she would say, Holmes responded in part, "I have publicly said this, I have said this in writing. ‘I apologize. We are sorry, we understand that this is a very hard thing, but that’s our job and we understand that.’ We get it right the majority of the time. Our complaint rate, our error rate is under .001% literally, and we try and do our best. We are not perfect. We answer every call when it comes to 911, and we are here to save our city, and we will continue to do that."
Billie Shepperd told FOX 5 over the phone after Friday’s hearing, she had yet to hear from Holmes or any city officials. Shepperd said she only spoke with the mayor because she bumped into the mayor at a summer event and decided to say something.
In a statement to FOX 5, Councilmember Charles Allen wrote: "The public and many members of the Council have had concerns about the leadership and operations of the Office of Unified Communications for some time, most recently stemming from multiple incidents where errors led to delays in emergency services arriving on scene and, tragically, loss of life. There is no requirement that the Council hold a public hearing on a nomination, and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety recently held an oversight roundtable with Acting Director Holmes to examine these incidents, and OUC’s performance, generally. This is also Acting Director Holmes’ second stint with OUC, and council members and the public are familiar with her leadership. It is clear the Council is focused on agency operations improving and supports a different direction for OUC’s leadership."
His office also added that Holmes was not officially nominated by the mayor until mid-September.
City leaders did announce at the public safety event that starting Dec. 4th, around 100 D.C. police cadets and recruits will be patrolling busy shopping areas with officers in order to increase police presence through the holiday season.