Dispatcher duties debated

Published 10:37 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Candidates in the Pike County sheriff’s race have had differing views on staffing issues and the way the Pike County Jail is being run, including the use of jailers as dispatchers for the county.

Incumbent Sheriff Russell Thomas says jailers are able to function as dispatchers for the county, while challenger Jason Youngblood says the double responsibility is dangerous.

Currently, the county participates in the E911 emergency dispatch program housed at the Troy Police Department but also employs its own on-site dispatchers, as does Brundidge Police Department and Troy University.

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The move to a centralized dispatch center under the auspices of E911, with representatives of all law enforcement agencies in one facility, would be what 19-year incumbent Thomas calls “ideal” if not necessarily feasible.

“The ideal situation would be to have all dispatch in one location,” Thomas said. “I was on the (E911) board the first two years, I was the one who suggested it.”

However, he said funding issues prevented its implementation then and continue to provide a stumbling block now. “There were some problems, some logistical problems. We needed money that the county didn’t have,” he said.

Thomas said the Troy Police Department operates the E911 dispatch, but the sheriff’s department employs its own dispatchers during the day. Jailers serve as dispatchers during nights and weekends. “Our office takes the calls during the day,” he said. “And most county jails are operated like we are operated.”

Dispatchers in the Pike County Jail work 12-hour shifts in the jail, and Thomas said Sundays were the busiest days for the dispatchers. But they are not overwhelmed. “When they’re busy on Sundays, (the dispatcher) will bring in help,” Thomas said. “They’re not overwhelmed. They’re not overworked or overwhelmed.”

But Youngblood, the Republican candidate for sheriff, disagrees. Youngblood said of having two jailers who working double duty as both dispatchers and jailers is unacceptable not only for the jailers, but also for the deputies that rely on them.

“When they receive a call, they’ll go into the other room to handle it,” Youngblood said. “One of them has a radio and one of them is doing paperwork. Correctional officers are not only doing correctional officer duties, but dispatch as well. They oversee 75-100 prisoners and are the lifeline for deputies ….

“This is a major problem. I want the dispatch out of the jail.”

To remedy the situation, Youngblood says the department would either have to double in staffing or move to a centrally located dispatch center.

“There are two separate duties and responsibilities, correctional officer and dispatch,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood said he advocates the move to a centralized dispatch center, operated under the auspices of the E911 system, with representatives of each participating agency on the staff: Troy police, Pike County sheriff’s department, Brundidge police and Troy University police. He said by having all dispatch in one facility, calls could be more quickly routed to the appropriate responding agency and collaboration between the agency can be more easily facilitated.

Youngblood said he understands moving the dispatch center out of the jail and combining the other dispatch centers into a larger facility would be costly. He estimates a central location for the dispatch center would cost $3 to $5 million, dependent upon the availability of funds and the willingness of Brundidge, the Pike County Commission and the City of Troy’s participation.

He said the Pike County Sheriff’s Department budget would incur additional costs, as the sheriff’s department would still need to employ jailers and would have to add staff for the dispatch center.

“There would be a lot of money involved, but at what expense are we sacrificing officer safety?” Youngblood said. “There is not a dollar amount on a deputy or a prisoner. We are responsible for those people down there.”

The general election is Nov 4.