HS dispatch S5000326

Residents address the High Springs City Commission during a Jan. 20, 2015 workshop to discuss the future of the town's emergency dispatch services.

HIGH SPRINGS – Local versus county dispatch of High Springs Police Department (HSPD) emergency calls was the topic of the Jan. 20 High Springs City Commission workshop. This issue has been a hot-button topic for a number of years and in 2012 High Springs brought back dispatch duties to the HSPD from Alachua County.

A panel of county representatives was on hand to answer questions and explain how the transition might benefit the safety of citizens and HSPD officers, should the commission decide to contract with Alachua County for dispatch services.

Alachua County Director for the Office of E911/Communications Keith Godwin, Alachua County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) Technical Services Division Manager Jim Lanier and ACSO Chief Deputy Col. David Huckstep made up the panel. Lanier is responsible for 911 communications at ACSO.

High Springs City Manager Ed Booth said the workshop was scheduled because commissioners had asked for it and also because some police officers had expressed concerns. “The system that is in place right now is not safe for them,” he said. One reason is that with only one dispatcher on duty, “that person could be taking a citizen's call when an officer needs assistance. If the City decides to keep dispatch local,” he said, “at least two dispatchers need to be on duty at a time.” That requirement would mean the City of High Springs will have to hire three more dispatchers to provide adequate coverage for both the citizens and the officers.

Booth said the city's fire department, which is dispatched by the county, leaves the fire department before the police dispatcher is able to dispatch police officers to the same call. “You can hear it,” he said. “First you hear the fire engine's siren, then a little bit later you hear the police siren. There is lag time between the two calls,” he said.

He explained the process by which each of those calls is received and explained that the police officers should be able to be dispatched at least at the same time as the fire fighters.

“We are building the best police department any small town could have,” said Booth. “I need a second dispatcher per shift.”

Finance Director Jennifer Stull presented information showing that the cost to the City of High Springs with the addition of three dispatchers would be $389,995. She compared that with the cost of Alachua County handling dispatching at $183,182.

Based on the number of calls received by HSPD dispatchers that would have gone to Alachua County, had they dispatched the calls, the cost would have been $105,096, calculated at 7,164 calls at $14.67 per call. Stull pointed out that when the county had the city's dispatching duties, about three years ago, the cost was about $75,000, but she was erring on the side of caution to calculate the highest amount the City could have been billed.

Booth said if the city commissioners chose to let the county handle dispatching duties, he had spoken with Sheriff Darnell and she said she would hire any qualified dispatcher the city had on staff.

One area of confusion seemed to be around the issue of re-addressing the streets to accommodate the county's E-911 grid system. Huckstep said the Sheriff would require that the City readdress the streets by September 2015. He said the City was asked to do that previously, but no effort was made by theCity to accomplish that.

Godwin explained the city didn't have to change street addressing if they chose not to go with county dispatch. But he pointed out that going to the E-911 grid system would lessen confusion for everyone. “There are three cities in the county named 'Main Street.' It has been confusing often for dispatchers to know which Main Street a caller is calling about.” He suggested the City call their Main Street “High Springs Main Street” to improve communication in emergencies.

High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham said the City was going to be required to change their street signs to reflective signs within the next two years. Godwin said he thought the county would pay for those signs if the city re-addresses their streets to conform to E-911 addressing.

One of the benefits of having the county dispatch for HSPD is that the county 911 system has 14-16 trained dispatchers on duty for every shift.   Another benefit is that calls are dispatched to a computer, which each officer has in his car. Officers can see the calls as they come in so there is less lag time than with the current system. Everyone is hooked into the same system and can hear if an officer is having a problem or needs assistance and proceed accordingly.

Godwin explained that the county's state-of-the-art system was recently updated to keep up with technological advances. He pointed out that the high cost of keeping up with advancing technology becomes cost prohibitive for smaller cities.

While no decision was made about changing dispatch service from HSPD to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, it is expected the High Springs City Commission will take up the questions of re-addressing and changes to HSPD's dispatch methods at a formal city commission meeting in February.

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