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Village Council— Dispatch on chopping block

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How important is it to villagers to have local police dispatchers? Village Council members want to hear from the community.

“We need to hear from citizens how valued our current system is. Is money more important?” said Council member Rick Walkey at Council’s March 18 ­meeting.

Prompting the question was a proposal from Village Manager Laura Curliss, which was not on Council’s meeting agenda, to contract local dispatch services to Xenia, in a shared services arrangement to begin August 1. While no action was taken and the issue was discussion only on Monday night, Curliss presented Council with a document she had prepared that would authorize the shared services with Xenia. According to the agreement, “negotiations between Xenia and Yellow Springs have resulted in the recognition that cost savings and service enhancement could be realized through the consolidation of the entities’ separate 911 dispatch services into one contractual service…” Sugarcreek and Bellbrook are also considering contracting with Xenia, she said.

The primary reason to contract out dispatch service is cost, according to Curliss, who told Council that the Village could stand to save about $146,841 per year. The savings is due to the lower cost of paying Xenia about $87,000 for the service in 2014 (which rises to $98,000 in 2018) rather than the $292,000 the Village currently pays for local dispatch service. Curliss presented Council with two contract options, one in which the Village would maintain a presence at the dispatch desk from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and the other contracting to Xenia for dispatch 24/7. While the cost of the contracts differed, they are both significantly lower than current expenses, she said.
The change would affect police dispatch only; the local police department would remain at its current location.

Contracting out dispatch services to Xenia would also allow Yellow Springs to make use of new technology that allows  police to respond to calls more effectively, Curliss said.

If Yellow Springs chooses to contract its dispatch to Xenia, the move would be a first step toward a more centralized dispatch service. According to Curliss, police chiefs throughout Greene County have for many years been talking about banding together for a central dispatch center, and eventually plan for two centers in the county.

Curliss also presented Council with a letter in support of the proposal from Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman. The fire-rescue service began contracting dispatch services with Xenia in 1989, he wrote, and the arrangement has allowed cost savings, improved information sharing among public safety agencies, provided opportunities for new technology, and has resulted in a more efficient dispatch service, Altman wrote.

However, Council member Rick Walkey questioned whether the same change would work for the local police, who receive more non-emergency calls from citizens.

“How would non-emergency calls be handled?” he asked.

Several citizens at the meeting spoke against the proposal. Rebecca Morean spoke of having lived in a Vermont town when, after police dispatch services were contracted out, tensions between citizens and the police increased.

“The dispatchers are the face of the police department,” she said.

Paul Abendroth recommended that before Council moves ahead with the change, it needs to understand exactly what the local dispatchers do, and figure out how those things will be done.
Speaking for himself only, retired police officer Dennis Nipper expressed his concern about police officers’ safety when they return to the Bryan Center at night and would not have the assistance from police dispatch that they currently have.

“You’ve got the officer alone” with the person being arrested, he said. “No one is speaking about the safety of the officers.”

However, Council will not move ahead unless the question of officer safety is answered, according to Council member Gerry Simms.

“We won’t approve anything that would put citizens or the police in jeopardy.”

Council President Judith Hempfling also expressed caution, and the need for more information.
“We need to think critically about what are the gains, what are the losses,” Hempfling said regarding contracting out the dispatch service. “Sometimes bigger is not better. High tech is not always getting what you want.”

However, Council member Karen Wintrow urged Council to learn more about what technology would be available in Xenia that isn’t available in Yellow Springs, and understand if that new technology could help improve citizens’ safety.

Council will revisit the issue of contracting the police dispatch at its next meeting on Monday, April 1.

The Village currently employs two full and five parttime dispatch officers.  According to Curliss, if the Village contracts with Xenia now, the dispatchers can put their names on a list of dispatchers that the county will give priority to when hiring for four new positions.

Other items of March 18 Council business will be in next week’s News.


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