County may embark upon a new era of dispatch

Sheriff’s Office begins handling Grafton 911 calls as board decides whether to forge ahead with once-foreign concept
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press Staff

A week after the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office began handling 911 calls for the Village of Grafton, the County Board was expected on Wednesday to decide whether to take over all dispatching duties for the village by the end of this year.

If approved, officials said, the measure would provide the village with service that is equal to or better than it currently has at a lower cost to its residents.

“It’s a collaboration,” Sheriff Jim Johnson said. “We’re working together with our municipal partners to provide more cost-efficient services for our citizens.”

If approved, it would be a stunning change of direction for a county where not too long ago the idea of having the sheriff’s department handle dispatching duties for municipal police departments was opposed by virtually every police chief and department.

That turned around in 2008, when the City of Port Washington became the first community in the county to have its full-time dispatching duties turned over to the Sheriff’s Department.

Currently, the Sheriff’s Department handles full-time dispatching duties for every county community except the cities of Cedarburg and Mequon and Village of Grafton. It also handles much of the dispatching for the Village of Thiensville, which handles its own dispatching for 40 hours a week.

In addition, the department receives all dispatching for 911 calls received from cell phones.

The Village of Grafton requested the move to consolidated dispatching last month after it ran into difficulties with its emergency medical dispatching program and was forced to seek alternatives.

The resolution to be considered by the County Board on Wednesday calls for the county to hire three more dispatchers to handle the village calls — a move estimated to cost the county $225,000. No additional equipment would be needed, Johnson said, adding he expects his department’s call volume to increase by 25%.

The Sheriff’s Office currently handles about 70,000 calls a year, he noted.

The measure being considered Wednesday would call for the county to pick up the cost of consolidated dispatch, as it did when it began dispatching for Port Washington, Saukville and Thiensville.

“It’s been the history and intent of the county to have the taxpayers pay once for a service,” Johnson said. Currently, Grafton village residents are paying not just for municipal dispatching but also for the county dispatching center through their taxes, he noted.

The county has paid for the computer software used by emergency services throughout the county, Johnson noted, as well as the fiber optics needed to connect the municipalities to the county, while the municipalities pay for their own hardware.

The Sheriff’s Office is currently authorized to have 15 dispatchers on staff. There are currently three vacancies, but Johnson said he expects those to be filled next week.

While the Sheriff’s Office can handle Grafton’s 911 calls with the current staff, the move to full-time dispatching would require the department to have another dispatcher on its first and second shifts, he said.

Johnson said he would offer Grafton’s dispatchers the opportunity to apply for the jobs in an expedited process, noting they would require less training than many applicants.

It would also help ensure the dispatchers don’t leave their current posts before the conversion occurs in January, he said. 

The Sheriff’s Office will be looking at whether it would also require another supervisor for the dispatch center, Johnson said, although they will also look into other options, such as having shift leaders handle supervisory tasks.

The Sheriff’s Office began handling 911 calls for the Village of Grafton on April 24, and while Johnson noted there were “a few little bumps,” he said that’s natural with any change. 

In the past week, the Sheriff’s Office has handled 11 calls for Grafton, he said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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