No timetable for 911 dispatch merger in Lawrence County

Weatherford

While discussions are ongoing, officials said many questions must be answered before a decision is made on whether to consolidate the Lawrence County 911 central dispatch with the Sheriff’s Office dispatchers.

“There’s no set timetable for the plan. It’s only in the talking stage,” said Lawrence 911 Board Chairman Chris Proctor.

District 3 Commissioner Kyle Pankey said consolidation could save about $140,000 annually and expedite emergency service. Presently, when an emergency 911 call comes into central dispatch, calls involving the Sheriff’s Office or any other law enforcement agency in the county are transferred to sheriff’s dispatchers.

Lawrence 911 Executive Director Ed Weatherford said his eight dispatchers handled more than 20,000 calls in 2018. “I’d guess less than 20% of those were transferred to the sheriff’s dispatchers,” he said. “911 is responsible for emergency calls. The sheriff’s department sometimes gets some mundane calls. A lot of them aren’t emergencies.”

He said the dispatch office located in the county Emergency Management Agency office in Moulton might need to be expanded if consolidation occurs.

“We’ll be needing additional equipment and may need a larger 911 office if more dispatchers are needed,” Weatherford said. Weatherford said it is uncertain where the funding would come from.

Sheriff Max Sanders’ department employs four dispatchers, and they are sometimes used as jailers and help to process inmates, the sheriff said.

According to sheriff’s dispatch records, 61,457 total phone calls were handled from May 2018 to May 2019. Not all were calls to 911 dispatchers, officials said. The sum includes emergency, non-emergency and citizen question calls. Service calls accounted for 10,658 of the total, according to department spokesman Chris Waldrep. Records show the Sheriff’s Office passed 5,606 calls to other law enforcement agencies in the county for a total of 16,264 service calls.

At a recent County Commission meeting, Commissioners Bobby Burch and Pankey assured Sanders money saved through consolidation will not leave his department.

“If you go to a centralized dispatch, that money saved will stay in your budget,” Burch said at the meeting in early May.

Sanders told commissioners he’s in favor of saving the county money.

“I’ve got an open mind about it,” he said. “If it saves us money, I’m all for it.”

Proctor said no immediate decisions will be made on the issue.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide the best quality care for Lawrence County citizens by giving the best service we can,” he said. “If consolidation is to happen, there are a lot of logistical things that will have to take place, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Proctor said the Sheriff’s Office presently doesn’t pay the 911 board any fees, and said that would likely change in the event of consolidation.

He said the 911 central office dispatches fire and emergency medical services calls. “All law enforcement calls in the county go through the sheriff’s dispatch,” he said.

Proctor said the 911 board’s next meeting is 6:30 p.m. July 1, but the topic is not on the agenda.

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