Dispatch systems to be studied

Police agencies will consider centralized communications

April 08, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office has been pushing for years for a consolidated dispatch center to streamline emergency communications on one channel and under one roof.

But the commander of the state police's Westminster barracks said in-house dispatchers have no problem handling 911 calls for the resident troopers and officers from the Hampstead, Manchester, Sykesville and Taneytown municipal police departments.

Lt. Dean Richardson, commander of the Westminster barracks, said one integrated system would require more dispatchers and a larger county emergency call facility.

After a meeting with the county commissioners, state police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins said he supports one consolidated system for Carroll, if the appropriate building space and technology are made available.

He said state police are working with Cecil County officials to move into one emergency call center there.

"I'd certainly be more than glad to sit and engage with a workgroup on planning for it," Hutchins said.

The Hampstead and Manchester police departments requested in late 2006 that Carroll County's emergency communications center start dispatching their calls instead of the state police.

Currently, 911 callers are put on hold as the county center transfers them to the Westminster barracks, which then transfers calls to the town departments. Three emergency dispatch systems now handle the calls to the county's seven law enforcement agencies.

"We thought it would be more efficient to have the primary reception of calls be at the [county] 911 center directly," Hampstead police Chief R. Kenneth Meekins said. "There's always the chance that a person will be disconnected in a transfer."

Improving police communications has been a priority for law enforcement agencies across the country since the Sept. 11 attacks, Meekins said.

Carroll County's police departments are forming a task force for a six-month study of the feasibility of creating one countywide emergency communications center.

The group will begin meeting next week, said Scott Campbell, administrator of the county's office of public safety. Campbell said the group will tackle two issues: how to consolidate all agencies into one call facility and how to dispatch all the calls on one system.

"A true consolidated system would have all law enforcement agencies on one dispatch channel that everyone was monitoring," said Randy Waesche Jr., coordinator of the county's emergency communications center.

Carroll's communications facility handles calls for the sheriff's office.

The Westminster Police Department has its own dispatch system, and it is working just fine, Westminster police Chief Jeff Spaulding said.

"Because I'm self-sufficient, there is no driving need" for Westminster police to consolidate communications, Spaulding said.

Although Spaulding said he isn't against consolidated dispatch, eliminating Westminster's system would force the Police Department to hire additional employees. Westminster's 24-hour dispatchers perform other functions, such as maintaining records and staffing the department's front desk, Spaulding said.

More and more counties have moved toward consolidated systems, Waesche said. Calvert County was one of the first to do so, in the 1990s, he said. Frederick County, where Waesche used to work, has one centralized communications center, but the various police agencies there still dispatch their calls separately, he said.

The police departments in Baltimore County and Baltimore City have their own integrated systems, Meekins said.

Col. Robert L. Keefer, chief deputy of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, said a consolidated system would conserve the county's strained police resources and better prepare officers responding to violent crimes.

"We don't know what the other agencies are responding to," Keefer said. "We can't always hear when we have different channels. It's an officer safety issue."

For example, Keefer said, the state police might respond to a bank that was robbed by four armed suspects last seen speeding away in a white vehicle. If a sheriff's deputy then pulls over that car for a traffic stop, he needs to know that the inhabitants might be armed, Keefer said.

Campbell said the new task force will estimate the number of additional personnel and costs of building an integrated center. If resources were consolidated, he said, dispatchers would have to be impartial in deciding which agency responds to which call.

Whatever decision the county commissioners make about the future of local policing, a consolidated system should support all arrangements, Campbell said.

He added that one communications system might better accommodate the potential transition from the state police resident trooper program to a local police force.

The Westminster barracks will continue to dispatch calls for Hampstead and Manchester police until the task force makes its final recommendations to the commissioners, Campbell said.

"The last thing we wanted to do was create a situation where we could absorb the workload of one or two municipal police departments and then be in a situation where we have to say, `Sorry, we can't accommodate you,'" Campbell said. "It's a wiser move to look at it all first before we start taking on pieces."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.