911 Consolidation Under Way in Lucas County (OH)

The photo shows the side of an ambulance with a blue Star of Life.
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Mike Sigov

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

(MCT)

With the city of Toledo, the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, and countywide EMS and fire dispatchers having previously switched to a centralized 911 center, now it’s suburban police departments’ turn.

First up were the Sylvania Township and Sylvania police, whose local dispatching moved Tuesday to the consolidated facility in Toledo. Dispatching of Maumee, Oregon, and University of Toledo police from the same facility is scheduled to begin early next week.

With dispatchers no longer working at their police stations, the two Sylvanias’ police lobbies are now closed at night and on weekends. Notices those departments posted to their social media direct people with non-emergency service needs to call 419-255-8443, which also rings at the Emergency Services Building at 2144 Monroe St. in Toledo.

Both police departments have pledged that their service won’t be affected.

“The consolidated dispatch will provide quality and professional service to the residents of Sylvania Township and our policing services will not change. Residents can still speak to a dispatcher [any time of the day or night] and request an officer respond to their home or business,” a post to the township police department’s Facebook page stated.

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Not everyone is so sure.

Paul Hanslik, a Toledo resident and a retired Ottawa Hills police officer said his main worry is that dispatchers in a countywide system won’t be as familiar with the streets and landmarks as they used to be in their respective communities, and hence won’t be able to dispatch as quickly as before.

Deputy County Administrator Matt Heyrman said that is not the case because consolidated dispatchers use a computer program that utilizes satellite pictures to pinpoint any location, complete with details such as a garage or a Dumpster.

The consolidated system will allow calls to be handled faster than previously possible, Mr. Heyrman said, significantly reducing delays associated with 911 calls picked up by the wrong agency that need to be transferred. While global positioning is usually accurate, he said, it sometimes routes calls from near a community border to the wrong dispatch center.

Mr. Henslik said he also fears that those unfamiliar with the new non-emergency number may tie up the system by calling 911 instead, but Mr. Heyrman said the local departments’ non-emergency numbers have been programmed to connect callers to the new line.

Another issue raised during public discussion of the consolidation plan was the possibility dispatchers who used to cover only a suburb will now handle a lot of calls from Toledo, which is more densely populated and generates more crime calls. That, they reasoned, could result in slower responses than before for suburban callers.

Mr. Heyrman countered that adding suburban areas to the centralized call system only adds about 9 percent to its call volume, while the center’s number of call takers and dispatchers on duty at any given time is increasing by far more than that.

Finally, Mr. Hanslik said, the new arrangement makes it harder for people to report incidents in person or obtain police reports at night or on weekends.

“What if someone comes to the police station in an emergency and finds the doors closed?” he said.

Mr. Heyrman said each of the local police departments will have a telephone that connects to the call center. Other lobby operations, he said, are local police department matters and not call-center issues.

About 125 employees from the nine dispatching entities, who previously worked at six locations, are being brought into the consolidated facility, which is expected to save millions of dollars in annual operating costs.

Each of the six 911 centers — in Toledo, the Sylvanias, Maumee, Oregon, and the sheriff’s office — served its own jurisdiction and Maumee also dispatched Ottawa Hills police under contract. The sheriff’s office provided dispatching for all areas not covered locally.

“Because we’re pulling over so many entities and people, we’re not pulling everybody over in one day, ” Mr. Heyrman said.

Overseeing the center is the Lucas County 911 Regional Council of Governments, whose board includes the sheriff, the Toledo police and fire chiefs, and two police and fire chiefs selected to represent suburban jurisdictions. Operating costs are allocated to the member jurisdictions through a formula based on each jurisdiction’s previous four years of police, fire, and medical calls.

For 15 communities whose participation will increase their local costs, the Board of Lucas County Commissioners is providing subsidies to make up all of the difference this year and next, half in 2023, and one quarter in 2024. A quarterly payment option also is available for communities whose cash flow doesn’t allow a single annual payment.

“Our consolidation is going really well,” Stacey Mitchell, the council’s executive director, said. “There’ve been no interruptions in service. And our partnerships with the police and fire chiefs is what made it possible.”

First Published October 27, 2021, 4:12pm


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