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Dispatch decisions

Council hears pitch from county reps.

August 22, 2012 - Representatives from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department presented the Oxford Village Council with information last week regarding what it would receive and what it would cost if they decide to contract with the Council for police dispatch services.

"We take a lot of pride in our dispatch service just as you do (with the village's communications center)," said Mel Maier, chief of communications for the county center.

If the village were to contract with the county for police dispatch, it would cost the municipality $27,580 for next year and $28,130 for 2014.

If the village dispatch center were to shut down, then the township would also have to contract with the county for fire/EMS dispatch. Currently, the village center handles all of the Oxford Fire Department's calls, which include both the township and village. The township presently pays the village $35,020 to dispatch fire/EMS calls whereas the county would charge "roughly" $31,000 per year, depending on the number of calls

Undersheriff Mike McCabe explained to council that dispatch rates are set by the county Board of Commissioners and, based on what he's seen over the last 20 years, they typically increase by about 3 percent annually on average.

"Sometimes it's been a little less. Sometimes it's been a little bit more," he said.

Dispatch rates are typically set for three years at a time to coincide with the county's budget cycle, so local officials can always count on their dispatch price being "fixed" during that period. "You can bank on that," Maier said. "Your costs don't go up."

County's rates are much lower than what village residents are currently paying to maintain their own dispatch center.

As part of its 2012-13 budget, the village allocated $371,082 for maintaining its own dispatch center through the local police department. Of that total, $296,082 was for operations – which includes three full-time and four part-time dispatchers – and $75,000 was for equipment upgrades.

Village residents are currently paying a property tax rate of 2.91 mills to fund their local dispatch center.

County dispatch is staffed by 57 people including Maier, a quality assurance supervisor, one administrative assistant, six shift supervisors and 48 dispatchers. Two supervisors are assigned to each of the three shifts. The number of dispatchers assigned to each shift varies – day shift has 16, afternoon shift has 18 and midnight shift has 14.

When extra dispatchers are called in due to a severe storm or large-scale emergency, it does not impact the set contract price each community pays. County absorbs the cost.

"That would cost you nothing extra," Maier said. "That's the price of doing business. That's what we do. We need to be there for you. You don't have to budget for the overtime anymore."

Currently, the county provides police and/or fire/EMS dispatch for the townships of Addison, Brandon, Commerce, Highland, Independence, Lyon, Oakland, Orion, Oxford, Royal Oak and Springfield along with the cities of Clarkston, Lake Angelus, Rochester Hills, Wixom, Walled Lake and Wolverine Lake, plus the combined fire department serving the villages of Franklin and Bingham Farms.

McCabe noted how 400,000 of Oakland County's 1.2 million residents rely on the sheriff's dispatch center to handle their 9-1-1 calls.

Last year, the county dispatched 213,175 calls related to law enforcement, plus 22,438 fire/medical runs. On average, the county dispatched 646 incidents per day.

Of the calls county received in 2011, a total of 140,451 were 9-1-1 emergencies, while 295,742 were 10-digit calls seeking general information. The average number of incoming calls per day was 1,000. Maier was proud to note that 92 percent of all calls to the county center are answered in under 10 seconds, which amounts to less than three rings.

To ensure that 9-1-1 emergency calls are always answered first, the county installed the newly developed Positron VIPER Automatic Call Distribution system. This state-of-the-art equipment gives top priority to all 9-1-1 calls by automatically making them the first to be answered by call-takers before any 10-digit calls to the county center.

Maier noted the VIPER is just part of the "millions of dollars worth of equipment that we've put in through the last several years."

"I suspect that your pickup time (for answering calls) may even be a little faster than ours here in the village," said Councilman Dave Bailey. But he indicated he's "more interested" in how much time elapses between the time a call is answered and the time at which public safety personnel are dispatched.

Maier explained that it's their policy that after a call-taker obtains the basic information concerning a 9-1-1 call – which includes name, address, phone number and what the situation is – and sends it to a dispatcher, from that point on, it "can't sit for more than 30 seconds" before the appropriate first responder is called on the radio.

"We're dispatching our runs (in an) average of about a minute," he said. The chief noted the county's had some "runs go out in two seconds" and some go out in 1 minute, 15 seconds.

"I can safely say that it's not going to sit for more than a minute at a time," Maier said. "We don't sit on runs."

Resident Sue Bossardet, who used to serve on council, indicated that although she found the county's system and statistics to be "impressive . . . there's another side to this."

She didn't like the idea of shutting down the village dispatch center on W. Burdick St. because the community would lose a place that's currently open 24/7 to offer everything from a safe haven for a woman being followed at night by an unknown driver to a monitored facility for child custody exchanges between divorced parents. "If you take this (dispatch service) off site, people have no place to go," Bossardet said. "I'm not interested in having a (call) box somewhere."

Maier noted the county dispatch center serves a number of police departments and sheriff's substations that are not manned 24/7. Each of them is equipped with a hands-free call box that automatically dials the county dispatch center with the press of a button.

Calls from these boxes are answered with the same "high priority" as 9-1-1 calls and the caller cannot hang up. The calls can only be disconnected by the county. During the call, the box allows the call-taker to "hear everything" that's going on around it.

To this, Bossardet replied, "A box on a building is not the same as being able to walk in and have a person help."

Councilman Tony Albensi noted that if the village contracted with the county and saved nearly $270,000 annually, it could possibly use a portion of this money to hire some support staff to work the police department's front desk during off-hours and at night and serve citizens who walk in or have emergencies.

McCabe noted how when the sheriff's department took over Pontiac's police and dispatch services, the city still wanted someone staffing the substation's front desk 24-7, so it utilizes part-time deputies for the task at a cost of about $80,000 per year. "It's whatever you want," the undersheriff told council. "We tailor it to fit the community's needs."

Albensi asked the sheriff's representatives if they would hire the village's three full-time dispatchers should council choose to contract with the county.

"We currently have two openings right now that are not filled," said McCabe, noting that "anybody" can apply on-line and undergo the testing process. Because Oxford's dispatchers use the same Computer-Aided Dispatch system and radios as the county, McCabe said, "It should be a very simple transition."

McCabe explained how when the sheriff's department took over dispatching for Rochester Hills and Walled Lake, it hired a total of five of their local dispatchers. When the county became responsible for dispatching Pontiac's calls, it offered jobs to all 10 of its dispatchers, but only five applied, according to McCabe, who's point was "there are opportunities available."

"Whenever we create revenue through contracts, we're able to hire people because of that additional revenue," he said. "As we take on more work, we're able to hire more people."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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