City approves 911 center consolidation

Morris: ‘There’s no downside’
Hamlet pushes vote to March meeting

By Kevin Spradlin

Previous coverage
* Counties, cities aim to consolidate 911 dispatching

ROCKINGHAM — Rockingham city leaders approved Tuesday night an agreement that will consolidate emergency dispatching efforts in Richmond County. The project is still between 18 and 24 months from becoming a reality.

Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said that Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. and Donna Wright, director of emergency services for Richmond County, were already on board with the idea, one that will require construction of a new emergency communications center and will see the displacement of an unknown number of dispatchers. Wright will oversee the new Richmond County Emergency Communications center and be advised by a committee that includes Clemmons and Kelly.

Monty Crump

Monty Crump

The funding for a new dispatch center would come from grants and existing 911 telephone fees. The grant also would include a computer-aided dispatch system that allows law enforcement officers to obtain data from dispatchers more quickly. In addition, the technology upgrade would allow public safety officials to triangulate the location of a signal should, for example, someone call 911 on a cellphone and be unable to speak.

Kelly said officials in Montgomery and Moore countries already operate in a consolidated format and Scotland County is expected to complete its consolidation effort within a couple of weeks.

Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump told City Council members during the city’s monthly public meeting that it’s “something that’s been talked about for a long time in Richmond County.”

Current operations — with the police department, the sheriff’s office and the 911 center all maintaining emergency communication equipment — is a duplication of services and personnel. The city’s four dispatchers would compete with existing county dispatchers for a spot in the consolidated communications center.

“Nobody’s guaranteed a job once this is done,” Crump said.

Crump said the city pays its four dispatchers approximately $161,076.13 each year. In today’s dollars, that’s a $1.6 million savings over the next decade, he said. The savings could be used to hire additional police officers, which are needed, he said. Any city dispatchers who aren’t offered employment by the county with the new Richmond County Emergency Communications center would be assisted in job placement with solid references, job search help and more, city officials said.

Crump said the agreement could move forward with the city of Rockingham, the county and the sheriff’s office. At its meeting in Hamlet also on Tuesday night, the City Council chose to table the issue until the March meeting.

Hamlet City Manager Marcus Abernethy said said council members and staff have questions and “we just want to research it … so (council members) can make the best informed decision.”

Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters said the cost of the city’s four dispatchers is on about the same as in Rockingham. But a consolidation wouldn’t necessarily mean the elimination of those four city positions.

Abernethy said the transfer of dispatching duties would “likely free up time for those employees.”

Waters said city dispatchers currently provide a wide array of services, including filing, clerical tasks and customer service for Hamlet resident — services that impact more than just the police department.

“Us consolidating would not mean that we would … ever lose those positions,” Abernethy said.

Without a cost savings, however, Abernethy said there could still be benefit to the city of Hamlet.

“Short-term, we would get service with equipment that Hamlet may or may not be able to finance ourselves,” he said. “That service would be provided to us for free. It would open up that manpower, staff time” for other tasks.

Crump said it’s a project that’s years in the making.

“I wish we’d done it a long time ago,” Crump said. “It’s definitely in the best interests of the community. Long-term, I think it’s a good deal.”

Mayor Steve Morris agreed: “There’s no downside.”

Crump said that with the approval, the real work is set to begin — work that consists of writing the grant application and finding a suitable location for a new emergency communications center.

Councilman Bennett Deane said that “the idea of creating efficiencies by consolidation is certainly the way to go.”

Councilman Travis Billingsley also approved.

“I think we owe it to our citizens, even if it was a cost to us,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, Kelly said his department has applied for a $15,000 grant to purchase 27 body cameras for the department’s police officers. A second grant, if approved, would cover the funding of four additional body cameras needed to outfit each officer within the department.

Along with being a body camera, each unit would have multiple uses, Kelly said, including helping an officer to see around a corner.

Kelly said work will soon begin on creating a policy so officers know when to turn on the body cameras.

Billingsley called this “another no-brainer … when you think about frivolous lawsuits.”

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