Central dispatch will minimize 911 transfers, provide officer, public safety

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2019

When residents of Pearl River County call 911 from their cellphones, they may be transferred up to three times before they reach the agency or department they intended to contact.

While land lines give dispatchers an address, and are automatically transferred to the correct agency, such as the Picayune Police Department for residents within that city, a call from a cellphone goes to the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department no matter where the resident is located, leading to numerous transfers at times.

“That’s a bad thing when there’s that many transfers,” said District II Supervisor Malcolm Perry.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said that will change when the county and city consolidate the two dispatch centers into one.

Perry said the new dispatch center will be located on the first floor of Chimney Square in Picayune in the offices where the Pearl River Valley Opportunity currently operates. That site has been chosen for its security features and access to a high-speed fiber Internet connection, he said.

Lumpkin said a new location for PRVO is being determined at press time.

Members of the Board of Supervisors and Lumpkin are considering two possible systems for that consolidation that will not only reduce the number of times a resident is transferred when calling 911, but will provide a number of other benefits. Firstly, all calls, no matter if they are for a law enforcement officer, municipal fire call or volunteer fire department call, will all go through that central dispatch center.

Also, when a call is currently given to a deputy or police officer, the dispatcher provides that call to an officer not knowing where he or she is physically located in the city or county.

Under the new system, tracking devices will allow dispatchers to see where officers are at all times, and thereby dispatch the closest officer to a potential emergency, Perry said. Lumpkin said those tracking devices can include their digital radios, Wifi hotspots and cellphones.

Paying for the initial costs of the new system will be the responsibility of the municipalities and the county, but continued maintenance will be covered with E-911 funds, paid to AT&T.

The new system will also allow the dispatchers to see where an officer is while responding to a call, whether in their car or on foot. Lumpkin said this option can make the work of law enforcement much safer, especially when officers have to leave their vehicle behind to conduct a foot chase. One of the two systems being considered updates the location of a responding officer every 22 seconds.

“What we’re trying to do is get into the 21st century of law enforcement,” Lumpkin said.

Records and jail booking will also be integrated into the new system, Lumpkin said, making access to warrant and other information easier for the law enforcement personnel. Currently, if an officer checking for warrants calls into dispatch, the dispatcher with the corresponding department will only have immediate access to warrants with their own department. To check for warrants with another agency, the dispatcher has to call that office separately, Sheriff David Allison said.

Even though this will entail the combination of what are currently two dispatch centers, Lumpkin said that the current shortage of dispatchers will mean the consolidation will more than likely not lead to a reduction of staff. However, when the dispatchers with the city of Picayune make the transition, they will become county employees, Lumpkin said.

A backup system consisting of two consoles will be installed at the Pearl River County Emergency Operations Center in Poplarville in case the central dispatch system becomes inoperable for some reason. Lumpkin said that system could also be put in use during a major hurricane or other emergency so the two centers could operate in unison. Alternately, the dispatch systems being considered could be run off of one laptop that has Internet access in an extreme emergency.

“I think it will be a better system for the community as a whole,” Lumpkin said.

The Board of Supervisors has requested pricing for the two systems so it can be considered prior to the upcoming budget hearings. Lumpkin said that once a system is decided upon, it could be three to four months before it is in place and operational.

Allison and Picayune Police Assistant Chief Dustin Moeller both see the consolidation of the dispatch services as a positive not only for their departments, but for the community as a whole.

“We’re excited about the positive changes as far as public safety,” Moeller said.