Allen Park may join Downriver Central Dispatch

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – Consolidation of 911 services with three neighboring communities could save the city nearly $300,000 a year and keep officers off the desks and on the streets, officials said.

Councilors discussed a proposed plan to join Downriver Central Dispatch, which currently handles 911 calls for Wyandotte, Southgate and Lincoln Park, at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The dispatch center, housed in Wyandotte’s police department, began in 2010.

Since laying off its three dispatchers and five police officers last month, dispatch duties have been handled by police officers at a cost of $423,904 in salary and benefits annually, Interim Police Chief James Wilkewitz said.

Allen Park could join Central Dispatch for $177,285 a year, Wilkewitz said. A grant the Police Department received in 2009 for the replacement of its 911 service would completely cover its $19,000 startup costs for the system. Costs of the service are based on the 911 call volume and population of a city.

Using drug forfeiture funds, Wilkewitz said the city could completely cover the cost of joining the system for the first year.

But in addition to cost savings, the system would also put officers back on the street, especially during late night hours when there are sometimes only two officers covering the entire city, Wilkewitz said.

“They weren’t hired to be paid as dispatchers, so let’s get them back on the street,” he said. “We’re at the point now where one minor incidents, such as taking a drunk driver to the hospital for a blood draw literally leaves one person on the streets for the city of Allen Park.”

Some residents raised concerns that the system could lead to delayed response times.

“If there’s an emergency, sometimes you only have a few minutes to save someone,” resident Tracy Barr said. “If you’re outsourcing, you could lose a life.”

Allen Park Fire Chief Douglas LaFond said it shouldn’t be an issue, as Allen Park police officers and firefighters still will respond to calls from their own cities.

“From our point of view, our employees know the city,” LaFond said. “They don’t need dispatch to give them directions.”

Concerns also were raised that the Police Department still have adequate staff to take reports from people on site.

“People walk in the door constantly, and they want to see a human body,” Wilkewitz said. “There’s always going to be an officer in the building. The idea is to get the other officers currently in the building back on the street.”

Southgate Police Chief Jeffrey Meussner, who attended the meeting, said the system has cut down on the amount of calls his station gets, but there is always an officer to take walk-in complaints. If more backup is needed, they call Central Dispatch and ask them to send an officer to the building, he said.

Wyandotte Police. Lt. Bobie Heck, who oversees Central Dispatch, said if Allen Park decides to join, they would need to move their 911 radio console to the Wyandotte facility, which takes a few weeks. But since Lincoln Park takes backup calls for Allen Park and is already a member of the system, non-emergency calls could start coming into Wyandotte much sooner.

“Because we have Lincoln Park, we could literally flip that switch tomorrow, and we can take the calls,” Heck said.

Central Dispatch currently runs with two to three dispatchers, but Heck said the addition of Allen Park would necessitate three at all times and perhaps require additional dispatchers – jobs which could go to former Allen Park dispatchers, some of whom have already applied.

Resident Denise Hunt said she hopes the council decides to join Central Dispatch quickly, as the city is losing $350,000 a month, according to a recent Plante & Moran audit.

“We’re not getting any more money, people,” she said. “So we have to work with what we have.”