Consultants recommend consolidation of all 7 dispatch centers in Ohio county

The consultants' report echoes recommendations made in 2008 when Stark County had 10 dispatch centers


Robert Wang
The Repository, Canton, Ohio

CANTON, Ohio — Consultants are reaffirming a 2008 recommendation that Stark County use one dispatch center to all but eliminate the transfer of 911 calls that can delay emergency response.

The county has seven such centers: the Stark County sheriff's office; Canton Police; the Regional Emergency Dispatch Center, which serves 14 communities including Jackson Township, Perry Township and Massillon; CenCom, which serves several village and township fire departments; North Canton Police; Alliance Police; and Minerva Police.

Consultants have recommended that Stark County in Ohio consolidate its seven dispatch centers to reduce call transfers.
Consultants have recommended that Stark County in Ohio consolidate its seven dispatch centers to reduce call transfers. (Photo/Michael Balash, The Repository)

Paul Linnee and Rey Freeman of Rey Freeman Communications Consulting presented their draft report to the Stark County commissioners on Monday.

“In an ideal world, there would be one 911 dispatching center for all of Stark County," Linnee told the commissioners. “That ideal world does not happen everywhere. It does happen in an increasing number of places in the United states nowadays. ... I understand that there’s not a universally shared political will to get down to one ..."

Linnee and Freeman are former employees of the consulting firm Geocomm, who worked on the 2008 report of Stark County's 911 and dispatch situation.

Prior to 2014, all cellphone 911 calls and most landline 911 calls went to the county's 911 center where a call taker, who could not dispatch police officers, firefighters or paramedics, had to transfer the emergency call to one of nine dispatch centers. That added crucial seconds of delay to each call.

The Stark County Sheriff's Office dispatchers in 2014 took over answering 911 calls, significantly reducing but not eliminating the transfers if the caller was calling from a jurisdiction served directly by the sheriff's office, such as Plain Township.

Consultant: Stark has made some dispatching progress

Since the 2008 study, Perry Township has closed its dispatch center and joined the RED Center, Louisville Police assigned its dispatching to Canton Police and Plain Township Fire Department disbanded its separate dispatching center and now uses the sheriff's office.

"Fortunately, much progress has been made," said Linnee, who acknowledged the installation of new computer-assisted dispatch equipment at several dispatch centers, the elimination of the 911 call-taker center and the installation of the countywide radio system, which allows police departments and fire departments to communicate directly with each other on their radios.

Linnee estimated the county and jurisdictions' consolidation has saved more than 14% of costs in 2019 compared to 2006, or about $850,000 adjusted for inflation. He also estimated that the number of emergency calls received by dispatch centers in Stark County with fewer transfers has resulted in roughly 30% fewer emergency calls received between 2006 and 2019.

However, Linnee pointed out that the sheriff's office, which handle all cellphone 911 calls and landline 911 calls outside Canton and Canton police, which handles all landline 911 calls in Canton, still have to transfer emergency calls to agencies not directly dispatched by either. Canton is working on getting nearly all cellphone 911 calls originating within Canton connected directly to the Canton Police's dispatch center, rather than going to the sheriff.

"Clearly, any reduction ... would be a step forward, but not without a significant amount of organizational pain, and one is tempted to wonder whether or not now might be the time to 'rip the Band-Aid off' and do it all, and get it over with, once and forever," the draft report says.

Linnee said, "I don’t know it’s worth moneywise to the powers that be in North Canton to have its own operation.”

The update did not include an assessment of improvements or changes in emergency response time.

Tim Warstler, director of the Stark Emergency Management Agency said such an assessment would be difficult because every incident is different and occurs at different locations. It would be very challenging to compare response times in 2019 versus 2006.

Warstler said the study update cost the county less than $31,000.

Reaction from Stark communities

Officials of communities with their own dispatchers who were reached Tuesday were not receptive to closing their dispatch centers.

Canton Police Chief Jack Angelo said the county needs at least two dispatch centers to directly answer 911 calls in case something happens to one. Or if one center is flooded with emergency calls.

"I think we we need a backup center. You can’t have one dispatch center and if things go down expect another county to back you up," said Angelo.

North Canton Mayor Stephan Wilder, who was the city's police chief, said his city having seven full-time dispatchers and two part-time dispatchers works well for North Canton's residents.

"We’ve had a really good dispatching system and it’s been very responsive to our residents, our citizens, our visitors who call in. That’s why we still maintain that," Wilder said. ”It allows us to maintain our control over what we’re able to provide for our citizens."

Alliance Police Chief Scott Griffith said officials considered closing the city's dispatch center. But they concluded it's better for the dispatchers sending Alliance police officers to calls to work in the same building as police.

"We believe keeping our own dispatch center is the best move for the city of Alliance and our residents, our community. .... our dispatchers have a great understanding of the city as far as both geography, some of the residents, some of the needs. We just think the familiarity and the cohesiveness of having our own dispatch center is almost irreplaceable," Griffith said.

He said Alliance has eight full-time dispatchers and one part-time dispatcher.

Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula on being asked if there should be fewer dispatch centers said, "There's going to have to be a whole lot of discussions about that. There's more work to do. I don't really want to comment on any changes to dispatch systems. By us all working together, obviously the MARCs radio system was a step in the right direction and the (computer-assisted dispatch system) ... the various agencies will have to make some decisions on their own."

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(c)2021 The Repository, Canton, Ohio

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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