Preble Co. Sheriff and Eaton Police Chief talk call center merger

By Megan Kennedy

April 8, 2014

One 9-1-1 call center to rule them all.

Law enforcement officials are in discussions regarding combining call centers to better serve Preble County.

The consolidation “would provide all citizens and public safety personnel with one fully staffed, fully equipped, fully trained dispatch center that would meet everyone’s needs now and in the future,” according to a presentation at a county Township Association meeting last week. Officials currently utilize a system that will soon be out of date. Updates to the console system could cost a minimum of $320,000 per division. These systems alert pagers, tornado sirens, and other emergency-related devices.

“Everything’s computer-driven anymore, and we all know how that goes in our homes, our businesses, we face the same thing here,” said Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson.

While the change is still in the discussion phase, both Sheriff Simpson and Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew expressed the need to have this change as transparent to the public as possible. The Eaton Police Division and the Sheriff’s Office share many similarities in structure, hardware, and software, making their camaraderie seamless.

Future state mandates (House Bill 360) will limit the number of PSAPS (Public Safety Answering Points/9-1-1 Call Centers) in each county in the future. With this proposal, law enforcement is taking the first steps to creating an easier transition for those in the county.

“It’s better for us to make the decisions locally, on what works best for us, as opposed to having the State of Ohio come in and tell us ‘this is the way you’re going to do it,” said Simpson.

Both the Sheriff’s Office and Eaton Police Division have stated the county proposal is to place a Countywide Communications and 9-1-1 levy on the November 2014 ballot. This levy proposes to pay for the entirety of dispatch operations for all of Preble County. This levy would also propose the consolidation of all emergency communications into one fully equipped dispatch center.

Countywide communications stakeholders are continuing to meet and develop implementation as well as operational strategies. “We’ve had three meetings, I think, to sit down and talk about this to see if this is something that we wanted to do, and one of the steps we wanted to take was to meet with you folks tonight, and kind of let you know what we’re looking at. I think our goal … is how do we do it, the best that we can do it, the most efficient way we can, and make sure we have the funding to be able to do that,” said Sheriff Simpson.

“The biggest step is here talking to you all. If we’re talking a countywide levy, we need the townships, we need the villages. Everyone needs to be on the same sheet of music with this and understand why it would be a positive thing for the county,” said Chief DePew.

The call center would provide all citizens and public safety personnel with one fully staffed, fully equipped, fully trained dispatch center which would meet everyone’s needs now and in the future. The call center would also eliminate 9-1-1 calls being transferred between dispatch centers, thereby decreasing response times. The call center could save taxpayer money over time as infrastructure, hardware, and software costs are consolidated, as well as save taxpayer money on personnel and general operations due to efficiencies and economy of scale, according to the presentation.

“You know, right now, we do the best we can. Of course, it’s no secret, public safety throughout the State of Ohio, across the country for that matter, has shrunk. It went from ‘do more with less’ to now it’s ‘do everything with nothing’ type of mentality … we’re doing the best that we can,” Chief DePew said.

The presentation also noted, the one call center would allow law enforcement agencies in the county the opportunity to switch over to the MARCS radio system.

Chief DePew said with the current system, “We’re on an island. We’re not really able to talk to anyone else, and nobody else can really talk to us.” Chief DePew said the larger counties with larger call centers can not only have control of their call centers, but smaller, surrounding call centers as well, including Preble County.

“The Sheriff and I both believe that having a dispatch center within Preble County, we can better meet the needs of our constituents than someone from a different county,” said DePew.

One call center would also have better capabilities to manage large scale incidents such as fire & EMS emergencies, and would provide one emergency point of contact for all residents of Preble County, according to the presentation.