Cities face unfamilar issue with shared dispatch deal

Centerville will take over 911 services for West Carrollton.

Police chiefs in Centerville and West Carrollton have negotiated an emergency dispatch services contract, a move not tried by either department.

Should the communities approve the deal, which both city councils are expected to consider this week, the transition to Centerville handling West Carrollton’s police and fire calls will be vital to the plan’s success, an analyst who has studied similar projects said.

“That’s important,” Greg Lawson of Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions said of the transition. “The biggest thing you don’t want … is there to be massive hiccups that result in something that is a problem.”

West Carrollton is planning to dissolve its dispatch center in face of staff shortages, rising costs and losses in tax revenues that have made it cost prohibitive for the city to maintain those operations.

Both cities said the five-year contract will call for West Carrollton to pay a flat rate of about $248,000 for the first year, with a 2 percent annual increase to top off at about $285,000 in the last year.

The deal will offer the potential for Centerville to absorb West Carrollton’s three dispatchers. If the contract is approved, Centerville will need four full-time dispatchers to handle the increased volume, said Bruce Robertson, that city’s police chief.

He and West Carrollton Police Chief Doug Woodard have spent several weeks working on the contract, ironing out other details and considering possible issues that may arise. Both said the move is a good fit because of the similarities in the departments.

But with neither city having implemented such a plan, both said they are preparing for the unexpected.

“The biggest fear for me is the fear of the unknown and what we might run into,” Woodard said. “We’ve never done this before, so we’re going to try and prepare ourselves as best we can.”

“It is unknown,” Robertson said. “We’re working hard to stay ahead of the curve.”

Both chiefs said there may be “bumps” in the road. But addressing significant issues during the transition while focusing on details will help alleviate problems going forward, Lawson said.

“That’s what ultimately makes these things successful – making sure there’s not major hiccups or anything,” he said. “So the transition is definitely an important phase.”

Once the contract is approved, Robertson and Woodard said they expect a 90-day transition before West Carrollton calls are handled from Centerville. During those three months, they will address issues such as ensuring communications system work smoothly, integrating call types and ironing out dispatching hires.

“The biggest transition when you’re absorbing people,” said Lawson, “is making sure that if there’s a different protocol that they get trained very quickly as to what that new protocol is … There should be a relatively quick fit in that. You want it to go well.”

Centerville dispatchers answered more than 36,000 calls in 2014, while West Carrollton averages about 25,000 to 30,000 annual calls for the police and about 2,200 for fire, officials have said.

Transition issues at the West Carrollton Police Department will continue likely through much of 2015 as it closes its dispatch center, Woodard said.

“We’ll still be working on behind-the-scene things here,” he said. “We’ll be working on getting everything streamlined to how we’d like to have it operate and making the changes that are going to be required of us.”

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