By Nolan Madden
The City of Holbrook is now an official founding partner of the Navajo County Regional Dispatch Center, which will soon serve as the hub for all county emergency response services.
A few years ago, the city disbanded its own emergency dispatch center, joining the current Navajo County system for dispatch services for the Holbrook Police Department at an annual cost of approximately $110,000.
“At that point we saved quite a bit of money; we had had four or five dispatchers on the city’s payroll and their average salaries were around $30,000 each,” Holbrook City Manager Ray Alley explained to the city council recently.
“Navajo County’s emergency dispatch system has been working for us without any negative issues for the past five years,” he said.
One of the pressing issues prompting the upcoming dispatch center’s development–and the city’s previous partnership with the county–has been the dire need to replace the outdated computer software and hardware used to manage police database records in each county municipality, including Holbrook’s, which presented an integration challenge due to the two incompatible systems presently in use: Spillman Technologies, Inc. and RIMS Law Enforcement Records Management.
The law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services of Taylor, Snowflake, Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District, Pinetop Fire District, White Mountain Lake Fire District, Pinedale-Clay Springs Fire District, Joseph City Fire District, Sun Valley Fire District, Vernon Fire District and Heber-Overgaard Fire District also use one or the other of the systems.
At Alley’s recommendation, the council approved the city’s entry into an intergovernmental agreement for the creation of the NARDC, for an initial term of 10 years.
Vice Mayor Wade Carlisle and council members Earl Kester, Francie Payne, Richard Peterson and C.J. Wischmann cast their votes in its favor, with Councilman Tim Dixon opposing it. Mayor Bobby Tyler was absent from the discussion.
“We’re the last one to approve the agreement,” Alley noted, pointing out that the new agreement is similar in structure to the current county dispatch agreement, offering its founding entities a 180-day window of advance notice to cancel participation in the 10-year agreement, with the loss of all capital investments as a penalty.
According to Alley, the towns of Snowflake and Taylor have opted so far not to join the NARDC, and consultants deemed the City of Winslow as unable to participate due to its incompatible telephone network.
“I know that 10 years sounds like a scary amount of time,” stated Holbrook Police Chief Mark Jackson, explaining that the organization adopted the time frame because it doesn’t expect major changes in its operating terms moving forward.
Jackson pointed out that the center’s two “mirrored” operations facilities will headquarter in Holbrook and in Show Low, with Apache County emergency services being collectively tapped to join the network in the future.
“Everything about these two dispatch centers is going to be identical. From what I’ve been told, a dispatcher will be able to work from either center, and both will look and operate the same,” said Jackson.
“The good thing about the setup is that if something happens in Holbrook–say, we have a train derailment and have to evacuate the county sheriff’s office–the dispatchers can flip a switch and continue operations out of Show Low, and vice versa.”
Jackson noted that, nationally, regional dispatch centers are eligible for numerous federal public safety and law enforcement grants.
He also explained that the signed NARDC agreement requires all member entities to convert their existing communications networks to the Spillman system, which the county and HPD are already fitted with.
“Without Spillman’s mobile module, we can’t install computers in our patrol cars. I think the module will be better for our officers on the road, because they will be able to report to us from the field to run license plates, warrant checks and just make the officers more effective all around,” said the chief.
“We’re in a better position than any other members, because we’re already on the system. Our guys know the system, and they know how the county dispatch works, so it’s not going to affect Holbrook P.D. at all. The other agencies are going to have a tough time going from RIMS to Spillman, because RIMS is an easier system to use.”
Councilman Dixon took firm issue with Alley’s and Jackson’s endorsements of the agreement–specifically, its 180-day back-out clause commitment–and questioned their positive assessments of the Spillman system by citing problems he says he personally experienced during his tenure as a Holbrook police officer.
Dixon raised the past instances of an HPD officer who he says was severely assaulted as a result of being dispatched to an incorrect address with no patrolman for backup, a female HPD officer becoming embroiled in an altercation with a prisoner and of HPD officers not receiving dispatch calls that were sent out.
“I would say that that was not a radio error, but a system error,” Dixon commented.
“You all know that I used to work for the Holbrook Police Department. I am well versed with RIMS and I am well versed with Spillman. When I personally tried to call dispatch four times before they answered, there was a problem. Even a county officer later called me at the police department and said, ‘I heard you every time.’
“That’s not a radio issue. How will we alleviate that? How will a regional dispatch alleviate those issues?” Dixon asked, adding that he didn’t recall any such incidents occurring prior to June 2011.
He pressed the pair to give examples of the Spillman system’s superiority over RIMS, and emphasized his own preference for the RIMS system “as the Cadillac to Spillman’s VW Bug.”
“We have two options: to sign this IGA or recreate our own dispatch center,” the city manager replied. “It’s pretty simple, and I don’t see any other options. To say anything would be foolproof, I don’t think we could ever say that. I don’t think that any of these procedures are fool-proof.”
“I want you guys to think through these issues and address the things that I’m bringing up,” was Dixon’s response.
“Do you think we could recreate our own dispatch center for under a half a million dollars?” was Alley’s counter-question, which Dixon deferred to Jackson.
“Plus $250,000 per year to staff it, along with employee benefits?” Alley added.
In his final assessment of Dixon’s queries, Chief Jackson stated, “There are so many different problems that our dispatch had before we joined the county’s. I had officers assigned to cover the dispatch who wouldn’t show up, and I would have to pull a patrol officer off the road in order to have him work the dispatch, so I had an officer out on the road without backup. I don’t have those problems anymore.
“If you want to talk safety, that’s a safety issue in my mind. In my mind, this is the way to go, and we’re going to have a better system and top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art equipment.”
Dixon concluded that, while he thinks saving money for the city is important, officer safety and the safety of the public is a much more important issue.
By Nolan Madden