A proposal to change Meadville police dispatch went before Meadville City Council Wednesday evening, seeking to transfer control from city dispatchers to Crawford County 911.
At the meeting, a majority of residents opposed the idea, saying they do not want to lose the personal touch offered by current city dispatchers.
Right now, there are four city dispatchers (two full-time, two part-time) who provide 24-hour dispatch services to residents. Those dispatchers field calls from the public as well as ones forwarded to them from the 911 center.
Director of Crawford County 911, Kevin Nicholson, said they transfer calls for police to the police and let them handle the dispatch end of it.
Under the new proposal, those four city dispatchers would be eliminated, and the 911 center would handle all calls. If a call necessitates police response, Nicholson said, the 911 dispatcher will take the caller’s information and forward it to a Meadville police officer in charge.
“We have the operations in place, we have had the dispatch center here for many decades. If the city chooses to have us take over their dispatch, we will take their phone calls – a lot of which we already do receive,” said Nicholson, who added he is not for or against the proposal. “If they want us to take over, we will take all of the calls and we will dispatch their cars and track their officers from that point. We would obviously take care of every call for service that came in and prioritize it and give it to the Meadville police and they would handle it from there.”
According to Meadville’s City Manager, Andy Walker, this new proposal was first discussed in December 2014. Waker said the proposal to transfer dispatch service could save taxpayer money.
“In the second year we might save up to $120,000 a year – there is moving parts to this, most of which are personnel costs,” said Walker. “It really comes down to a level of service, what level of service does council want to provide their citizens for the value of their tax dollar? You can argue that the loss of our local dispatch could be a loss of a personal touch and customer service.”
Walker also said citizens are currently paying for dispatch service in multiple areas.
“City citizens are paying for that service twice, not only are they paying it through their local police department and their real estate tax dollars primarily, but then through their county tax dollars, they are supporting the County 911 center,” Walker said.
Meadville Councilman Bob Langley disagrees with the proposal, saying while it may save taxpayer money, it eliminates the chance for community policing and the opportunity for residents to call police directly for non-emergencies.
“Moving dispatch would be a gross disservice to our citizens and to our employees,” said Langley. “Those are the people that we need to really think about, we represent these folks. There is a lot of times that the calls aren’t of an emergency type of nature – it might be [a caller] sees paraphernalia on the street, something looks suspicious, a car door open, ‘can you come by just do a drive-by check?'”
If the proposal makes it on a council agenda and is approved, Nicholson said the 911 center would need at least a year to transition in to taking on the city’s calls.
Meadville Mayor, Leroy Stearns, said over the phone Thursday that he plans to spend several shifts at the 911 center in order to experience operations firsthand. City council said they are seeking resident input into the issue, and welcome any comments/thoughts.