AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
The McKenzie County Commissioners are going to be facing a very difficult decision as they weigh the pros and cons of returning 911 dispatching services to the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department.
For many years McKenzie County, like the majority of the state’s counties dispatched all of their law enforcement, fire and ambulance, as well as 911 calls, through its sheriff’s department. It was a system that worked well. The dispatchers were local residents who not only knew the area’s roads and streets by heart, but were also very familiar with the names and locations of local landmarks that were often used in times of emergencies. It was a pretty smooth running system, as it should be.
But the oil boom changed all that. Because of the nature of the highly mobile workforce that moved into the county, the increased stress on the dispatchers due to the volume of calls, and the county’s wage scale, the sheriff’s office was no longer able to recruit, train and retain enough dispatchers. And without a sufficiently trained dispatcher staff, the county’s dispatch service became an absolute nightmare.
The dispatchers no longer knew the county. Law enforcement and emergency responders were getting mixed messages and sometimes the wrong directions. It was, as Linda Svihovec, county auditor describes, becoming a crisis point.
Recognizing the serious problem with the county’s dispatch service, the commissioners came to the decision in January of 2013 to discontinue the county’s 911 dispatch service and to begin utilizing State Radio.
But with law enforcement activity leveling off and McKenzie County now having a more stable workforce, Gary Schwartzenberger, county sheriff, is proposing bringing 911 dispatch services back to his department.
While Schwartzenberger is confident that the department can once again maintain the sufficient number of trained dispatchers needed to provide 24/7 dispatching service, the lingering question that the county commissioners need to resolve is, “what if he can’t?”
Rebuilding a new dispatch department is not going to be a cheap endeavor. Not only is it going to require the purchase of nearly $300,000 in new equipment, but it would also require the hiring of 12 new dispatchers, which are estimated to have a combined salary of over $457,000.
But contracting with State Radio isn’t cheap either. The county is looking at a monthly cost of roughly $5,100 monthly for the next two years.
As the county commissioners, law enforcement and emergency responders, as well as all McKenzie County residents have found out, having a trusted, knowledgeable, and professional 911 dispatch service is critical.
At the end of the day, the decision facing the county commissioners is who can provide McKenzie County with the best and most professional 911 dispatch service. Is it State Radio? Or is it the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Dept.?
The county commissioners need to take the time that they need in making sure that the answer that they reach is in the best interest and safety of the citizens of McKenzie County.