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All St. Pete 911 Calls Should Be Handled By County

OPINION: Every effort will be made to make turning over St. Petersburg Police Dispatch to the County an emotional life and death discussion. It simply is not.

At the last Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee meeting, Mayor Bill Foster held up a city organization chart and said, "This is $199 million organization model. We need a $185 million model."

County administrator Bob LaSala and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri have begun serious talks to consolidate the county emergency center and the Sheriff's 911 center.

The St. Petersburg 911 Center literally duplicates the service performed by the County 911 Center. All 911 calls in Pinellas County go to the County 911 Center. St. Petersburg medical emergency and fire calls are already dispatched by the County Center.

Calls for St. Petersburg Police Service are answered by the County 911 Center and transferred to the St. Pete Center, where they are processed through a call taker and a dispatcher. That adds two more people and additional time to the actual police dispatch.

Centralized dispatch should result in better service for the public. Duplicating 911 call centers has always been a parochial issue, and the city can no longer afford it.

There is absolutely no reason to spend millions of dollars on a dispatch center in the new police building to duplicate something that already exists at the county level; and continuing to spend millions of operational dollars on police dispatch when the balance of that money can be turned into on-the-street police presence

The cost of the new police building is driven as much by the technology as it is by the bricks and mortar. Elimination of a fully functional 911 center and its associated security, environmental requirements and technology infrastructure should reduce the cost of the new police building significantly.

Now is the time to get the public safety issue on the budget radar. The Mayor and City Council must take the lead in developing a new, more efficient and more effective public safety program.

e-mail Doc at:dr.webb@verizon.net

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Edith March 14, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Why did it take so long to figure out that we had duplication? I think it was clear to anyone who called for an ambulance and had two ambulances show up (which was always the case). Does this mean that if we call for an ambulance in the future, we can expect to receive just one?
Doc Webb's Bay Post March 14, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Edith: Not yet. Fire and ambulance dispatch are still being worked out by the City and the County. It's not going very well. The 911 dispatch issue relates to calls for Police going first to the County and then to the St. Pete 911 center before a police officer is dispatched. The current system is costly and inefficient.
Peter J Dunlay March 16, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Why does St. Pete continue to try and re-invent the wheel? Certainly the present system is not sufficient. However, there are numerous cities nation- wide that have been through this all and have put solutions in place to have an effective 911 System. Not so sure the County is the answer. We've taken Animal Control and made the County responsible for that. Now we have no Animal Control services in town. If they do show up they complain that they can't handle the load. Shifting money, personel, and responsibilities sometimes works. I hope those making this decision will take the time to get it right the first time!
Robert Thompson April 25, 2012 at 02:24 AM
It, the 911 system, was studied. That study by the city is still underway. Swaying public opinion on this sensitive issue before all facts are known is counterproductive to the process. One thing is sure. There are a certain number of calls that come into each system. If you merge the systems, you will still need all the same people to answer the calls. You may be able to eliminate a supervisor position or so but you will still need the bodies to answer the 911 lines. Also it is known that the software systems are different between the county and St Petersburg. So, this will require substantial funds to rectify. There are simpler, more cost effective answers.
Doc Webb's Bay Post April 25, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Robert I was at the St. Pete PD until 6 months ago I am unaware of any formal study regarding the 911 call center. There may be a lot of work directed at justifying the status quo. There is something called economy of scale. There will be significantly more dispatch volume, but the incoming 911 call volume at the County 911 Center will be the same. All 911 calls are answered at the County first. Additional dispatchers may be needed but the number will not equal the number in the St. Pete Center. The systems are different, but the City's system has an add on module that allows the Records System to talk to remote dispatch systems, and the City's current dispatch software and hardware would be eliminated saving substantial amount of capital, operational, overhead and maintenance costs. The City and the County have outstanding technical support teams that have been working together for some time. Working out the issues, while not easy, can be accomplished. The major area needing more work is handling non emergency calls. As to swaying public opinion, the St. Pete PD will mount an all out effort to prevent this change from happening. We need to make sure the public has all the facts. If you have some better or simpler ideas post them here or e-mail them to me, dr.webb@verizon.net. I'll make sure they get to the right people.
Robert Thompson April 29, 2012 at 07:09 AM
Hi Doc. I'm a member of CONA and on the exec board. We are doing our own study and is therefore perhaps less formal than a paid study. Paid studies can be paid to be slanted... The comments made are based on information that I received so far at the most recent meeting mid April. As is our custom and function, we will make recommendations to council based on this info. You were recently at one of our general meetings one week after the board meeting. Having been a Registered Nurse for 34 yrs and practiced many of those in emergency services, I am very familiar with how 911 services works, the call volumes and personnel required.
Robert Thompson April 29, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Let me further state the opinions expressed so far, are my own and not that of CONA. Robert

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