Sheriff: Reasons why dispatch should be its own entity

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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This is certainly not the letter that I wanted to be writing today but at this point, I certainly feel the need to do so now because I am concerned about dispatch, E911 and the future of all the employees that work in those respective places.

The consolidated 911 Dispatch Center was carefully planned and executed back in 2016 as the first step into continuity across the county. Having two dispatch centers proved to be outdated in a county with one municipality. The move had to be cost-effective and beneficial to the residents and first responders. The location in 2015 was decided because if we received any tornadic activity in the City of Natchez, 911 would not be affected, so the Adams County EOC was chosen. There is a lot of planning, research and considerations that have to be examined before a budget is brought into question for moving and setting up a new PSAP. To include layout, support structure for phone providers, internet capabilities, external infrastructure, and backup power sustainability. The proposed budget from the NPD does not account for phone lines, maintenance plans, internet services and monthly fees that the current 911 funds do not cover.

The city or county would have to account for about $124,000 in operational costs per year. The hidden cost would also be in the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, maintaining the Mississippi Justice Information System (MJIS) and moving all the equipment from the current location not covered in the $125, 000 for improvements. This could easily be $250,000 of funds used and not really saved.

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The purchasing of new consoles for seven years at $50,000 and placing them in a temporary location would cost more funds, in the long run, than moving all four 911 positions to a permanent location. The move should be to a permanent position that meets all requirements of a standalone agency—to include feasibility, affordability, and durability to withstand our weather or security threats, backup power options, accessibility and operation sustainability.

The city has the right to purchase its own 911 equipment and hire dispatchers; however, there has to be one main Primary Safety Answering Point (PSAP) agency (Adams E911) to receive 911 calls. Those calls would have to be routed or transferred to a secondary PSAP (NPD). The NPD location cannot support the activation of the Adams County outdoor tornado sirens at this time due to the unsupported radio tower. There would be another cost for T-1 lines to be linked between the NPD and ACSO, in which we canceled and saved taxpayers’ dollars when consolidated in 2016.

The current center is not located at the ACSO but in the Adams County EMA office in the basement. We know the building has problems but it is the only neutral location not located under the authority and control of a law enforcement agency. The concerns about the health of dispatchers and working conditions can also be said about the EMA personnel whom co-locate in that area.

Figures were provided but no actual plans or equipment lists that justify the proposal. The E911 Board was formed to deal with this situation, yet were blinded sided when they saw the article in the paper because it was not the plan that was agreed upon. When you are dealing with an issue as critical as dispatch, all parties need to be unified when the plan is brought forth to the public and that is clearly not what happened in this situation. You should also have people at the table who are specialist in these fields to give their invaluable opinion on situation that affects us all. That is not what happened in the situation. What you have in this situation are trigger terms thrown out such as: Saving Tax Payer Dollars and Politics at Play. In reality, what you have are figures that were wrong and accusations being thrown out loosely. The last time this happened was when the inmate consolidation between the city and county came up. There was very little or no communication between all entities involved and a large savings number was thrown out on what the city would save. It was said in a meeting that it would cost the city roughly $29,000 a year to house inmates and I disagreed openly in that board meeting and said no, your figures are wrong. It would cost the city around $100,000 a year and I was correct about it. This situation is no different.

I spent 8 years working at NPD and have seen dispatchers put trash cans out to catch the rainwater as it dripped into NPD’s dispatch center from water that had accumulated on the flat roof which may have been replaced by now. I was there to see the mold in the roof and when we had snakes invading the building. Even Alderman Billy Joe Frazier thinks it is not the best idea to move dispatch back to that building because of its conditions. If anyone should know, it would be him because the man spent almost 30 years dealing with the maintenance of the building. We are being accused of being political and territorial which is not the case at all. Ask yourself what is being more political than taking a man off the police committee with almost 30 years of experience and not including him in discussions concerning a building that he worked in for his entire career because he challenges the system.

At the end of the day, I want the public to know that I deal with facts. The facts are that the figures are off and this was agreed upon in a joint meeting, yet the agenda was still being pushed to a vote but failed. There are hidden figures that were not accounted for because the proposal provided to the public was not worked on by all the parties who should have been involved. Law enforcement agencies’ buildings age seven times faster than a normal business because they never sleep and are open 24/7. It doesn’t make sense to put dispatch back in the same building that it was pulled from. All three agencies (ACSO, NPD & NFD) agreed years ago that dispatch really did not need to be in any of our facilities so we changed the course. If the prices of the proposed building are too much, then maybe we should enlist the services of a real estate agent. We have some of the best realtors in the state of Mississippi, right here in Natchez. I am sure if we give them a figure, they will find something that fits our budget.

In conclusion, having an E911 independently housed in a building by itself allows E911 to evolve as time and technology changes. You can check around the state and you will see that most cities and counties have done the same. Most are on the path of evolving from an E911 center to a real-time crime center, which is what we leaders should be envisioning for our community. What you will not see other communities planning is to move dispatch every 5 to 7 years as technology changes. The technology will change but the location of the building remains the same.

Moving dispatch to NPD is only a temporary fix that will only solve the issue for the dispatchers, but it leaves behind the other E911 workers who are facing the very same conditions that we (ACSO included) are all in. I do not put more value on one person’s life than I do on another. We use the phrase “taxpayer dollars” so loosely. I, for one, am a taxpayer and I am in agreement with spending those funds wisely. But on the other hand, I do not want to continue to devalue the lives of all the first responders (dispatchers & E911 included) with how this term is constantly being used. Everyone reading this wants the best service possible provided when you call dispatch or if a first responder is called upon for service. Yet, we are frowned upon in this community when asked to do something decent for the men and women who serve us every day. It is disheartening to see some of the things that we will jump to ask for funds for (such as the million-dollar lighting of the bridge), but yet we are accused of not being good stewards of money when will simply ask for a decent place for the people who serve you to work in daily.

Our mentality must change when it comes to the facilities, equipment and pay for all cities and county workers. If you do not take my word for it, stop and ask one of the workers who are not sitting at the top and listen carefully to the response you get. There are a lot of things that Natchez can be proud of, but this is not one of them. When you learn better you do better. I hope this helps put things in a better perspective, so we can do better together. We do not need to take steps backward. We need to keep moving forward.

Travis L. Patten is Adams County Sheriff.