The Anniston Star

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November 27, 2014

Some agencies unsure about centralized dispatch plan

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Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014 6:03 pm | Updated: 7:52 pm, Mon Jun 30, 2014.

Anniston is on board with plans to centralize all emergency dispatch in Calhoun County to the 911 center in Jacksonville, but other agencies are hesitant to ditch their current systems.

The Calhoun County 911 Board of Commissioners last week voted unanimously to provide dispatch services for Anniston police. The $383,501 annual contract puts the city’s fire and police departments’ dispatch with Calhoun County 911, which hopes to have all of the county’s municipalities one day using a centralized dispatch system for telecommunications.

“We really feel like this is the most cost-effective way to do things,” said Kevin Jenkins, director of Calhoun County 911. “It’s also a more efficient way to handle 911 dispatch.”

Anniston, which handles the highest volume of emergency calls in the county, Jenkins said, is a big first step for the 911 board’s plan to get every agency in the county involved. Earlier this year, Jenkins told The Star he’d like to see that partnership come together by October, but the director said Monday that goal is unrealistic, and it might take years before a central dispatch system for the whole county comes together.

“Many agencies have a, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ mentality,” Jenkins said. “To get them to give up their dispatch system, which is the heartbeat of police and fire support for the community, is a difficult pill for them to swallow.”

It’s a tough sell, apparently, even within the Calhoun County 911 organization.

“I really haven’t had time to think about it,” said Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge, who also serves on the 911 Board of Commissioners. “We haven’t had any serious talks about it, and we’re satisfied with the way we’re doing things now.”

Getting Anniston, however, wasn’t too tough a sell. The 911 service has already made plans to use the Anniston Police Department as a second location for dispatch. Of the department's 14 full-time dispatchers, six will move over to employment with the county, while keeping their old jobs, Jenkins said.

Laying off dispatch employees, though, has been a sticking point for other organizations, and one that the city of Piedmont saw as a problem with the potential move to central dispatch.

"The chief feels strongly about the people he has doing dispatch," said Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker. "And we wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize that."

Baker said the city right now is taking a wait-and-see approach for centralized dispatch.

Besides Anniston, the biggest proponent in months past for the centralized dispatch was Weaver, but Mayor Wayne Willis said Monday that the city has since rethought its acceptance of the project, citing costs and effectiveness.

More than the effect on employees, Willis said, his biggest concern with centralized dispatch has to do with serving warrants. Right now, he said, police on patrol can call into Weaver’s central dispatch to check on the status of warrants. Willis said he hasn’t received a clear answer from the 911 service on how that system would be handled were the city to move all dispatch to Jacksonville.

“To contract with them, then to keep our own staff 24/7 for warrants defeats the whole purpose,” Willis said. “I’m for cost-saving, and I’m for a more efficient, effective system, but it seems like we’d be sacrificing one for the other.”

Willis said Weaver is going to take a wait-and-see approach for dispatch, similar to the city of Piedmont.

“We’re not in any serious talks right now,” said Piedmont fire Chief Mike Ledbetter. “I think we’re just going to see who gets on board and see how it goes, and we’ll make a decision from there.”

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