County coming together for streamlined 911
Sheriff’s Office working with Marion, West Memphis police on consolidation plans for emergency dispatch
One of Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless’ promises when he was first elected nine years ago was to streamline government agencies and make them more efficient with his number one goal to combine the West Memphis and county 911 Emergency Dispatch operations.
It’s been over two decades since such a similar attempt was made when the new county detention center, sheriff’s office and dispatch center was built on Afco Road in 1998.
First responders from West Memphis and the county, including West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon, Police Chief Eddie West, Assistant Police Chief Robert Langston, Sheriff Mike Allen, West Memphis Fire Chief Dennis Brewer as well as West Memphis Treasurer Frank Martin met for the first time Tuesday at the dispatch center’s meeting room in what Wheeless said was a very positive and major step toward merging the two emergency dispatch centers.
One of the primary concerns brought up was making sure everyone involved would have a voice in how the merger will work and Wheeless made it clear that it would not be just one entity controlling everything.
“At the end of the day we want everybody involved to have a seat at the table.
We have already discussed creating a board that would include all entities with equal participation,” Wheeless said. He made it clear that West Memphis would be just as involved as the county and that everyone would be equal.
Sheriff Allen pointed out that when Craighead County combined their 911 centers there was some concerns from the sheriff over losing control over his employees.
“This is just our first meeting and we need a series of them before any final decision is made because we want to make it right for everybody,” Sheriff Allen said.
The point was made that currently West Memphis
The Academies of West Memphis’ top concert band, the Symphonic Winds, will perform at the local VFW Veterans Day observance at 11 a.m. Monday at the local VFW Post. Also, the band will perform at a special Veterans Day concert Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the AWM Performing Arts Center. The Blue Devil Symphonic Winds will perform a medley of service songs as well as a medley of patriotic music. The entire community is invited to all of these special events
A Veterans Day Gathering
Photos by Billy Woods Crittenden County 911 Director Ronnie Sturch (right) discusses plans to consolidate services in a cooperative effort with all local police departments.
Times Staff Photo
dispatchers make more money that do the dispatchers in the county, something the sheriff said needs to be addressed.
Mayor McClendon asked would city dispatchers answer only West Memphis 911 calls and Ronnie Sturch, director of the county’s communication center, said they would be cross trained to handled all calls. Major Stacy Allen, who oversees the West Memphis dispatchers says they handle over 100,000 calls a year. Sturch said they too handle about that many calls, 20,000 of them being 911 emergency calls. Sturch made it clear that there won’t be any noticeable cost savings on the front end because there will be costs associated with the transitions as well as making sure there are the required number of qualified dispatchers to handle all the calls.
He also said no dispatch positions will be eliminated but there would be eventual savings by eliminating duplication in some areas.
Currently, the county’s dispatch center accommodates six law enforcement agencies, 10 fire departments and three private EMS services. By merging West Memphis into the center would require the same number of dispatchers currently employed by the city to handle the additional calls, Sturch said.
One possible problem that was brought up was West Memphis has currently signed an agreement to install a new phone system for their police department and dispatch facility which is expected to be completed sometime in January.
Sturch then asked why couldn’t the new phone system be installed at the county’s facility instead and Martin responded by saying he will be talking with AT& T representatives this week and added that he felt there shouldn’t be an issue.
Langston asked Martin to see if relocating the system to the county would mean an extra expense.
“All I am hearing is pros and I don’t see anything against it, McClendon said, and then asked what the next steps will be in the process.
All agreed to meet again and set up trips to other cities that have combined their 911 systems such as in neighboring Craighead County and Jonesboro.
Wheeless said he would set up a time for the next meeting and a tour of another dispatch center.