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County asks 911 for cost estimates if sheriff's dispatch unit folds
County asks 911 for cost estimates if sheriff's dispatch unit folds

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall calls 911 Director Michelle Graves for estimates of the cost to transfer the sheriff's dispatch and MULES functions to the 911 agency.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (March 23, 2009) — Sheriff J.B. King warned county commissioners earlier this month that his dispatch unit could collapse if nothing is done to address loss of personnel. At Monday morning’s commission meeting, King said Pulaski County 911 Director Michelle Graves wants to have commissioners meet with her to discuss dispatching issues.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall asked King why he’s asking only for deputies, not dispatchers, in a planned application for a federal stimulus grant for law enforcement.

“When will you find out about the COPS grant?” Ransdall asked. “You didn’t ask for dispatchers, you only asked for deputies.”

King said as far as he can tell, the federal grant only allows hiring of uniformed and certified police officers, not other personnel such as dispatchers and jailers. He hasn’t yet been able to discuss the grant proposal in detail with Kelly Sink-Blair, the Meramec Regional Planning Commission grant writer who will handle the project, but hopes to have answers soon.

Commissioner Bill Farnham said he’s optimistic the federal government will help.

“I agree if there’s ever a time to get some help from the federal government, it’s now when they’re throwing around all this money,” Farnham said.

Unlike prior COPS grants in which cities and counties had to pay an increasing portion of the salary of new police each year of the grant, the current grant package that’s part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package includes rules specifying that if local government agencies have unfilled positions or police who have been laid off or are about to be laid off, the federal government will pay for three years of their salary with the local government responsible for the fourth salary year.

“The deadline for the application is April 12, but they’re not saying a word about when you’ll be notified if you are successful. We don’t know if it is three months from now, 10 months from now, or something else,” King said. “As far as grants for people go, I don’t think you can beat this one, but there is the fourth year.”

Commissioner Ricky Zweerink asked whether eliminating the dispatchers would free up time for deputies to patrol.

“If you took this to 911 and moved the dispatch, would it allow you more help to be out in the community?” Zweerink asked.

“Not really,” King said.

A key problem, King said, is that he’d have to hire additional people to be in the courthouse at night to provide backup to the county jailers.

“They basically are very concerned that there must be someone there to watch their back. If we lose the dispatch we’ll have to make other arrangements to watch their back,” King said. “It’s a no-win situation as far as I’m concerned … My position is I’m not leaving a jailer sitting over in that jail by themselves, period. I don’t think we have a choice.”

Ransdall asked for details of why jailers object to not having a person at the front desk of the jail and why the front desk person has to handle people coming to the jail after business hours.

“They are confined. It’s not like you have 30 people back there and need crowd control,” Ransdall said.

King said inmates could create a major problem such as a claim of an urgent medical situation to lure the jailer into a cell, knowing nobody else was in the building for backup and the closest deputy was miles away.

“We don’t want to put anyone at risk, we don’t want to have anybody killed or injured,” Ransdall said. “What would prevent you from saying your visit time is 8 to 5 every day? You wouldn’t have people coming down after hours then, they could wait until morning.”

King said lawyer’s visits and personal visits are already conducted only during regular business hours without special arrangements he must personally approve, but said people come to the jail for a wide variety of other reasons.

“Couldn’t we make that 8 to 5 also?” Zweerink asked.

“You could do that, but it’d make a lot of people very mad,” King said.

Farnham said the wrong questions are being asked.

“I think we’re moving backwards instead of forward,” Farnham said. “They’re looking at Fort Leonard Wood continuing to grow and expand. Mr. Ransdall, you’re really big on economic development and expansion. If we get a big company looking at coming in, they’re going to look at whether we have a good sheriff’s department and if we don’t, they’re not going to want to come in.”

“How do you propose to fund that?” Ransdall asked.

Farnham said Ransdall needs to call U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, to see if special funds could be made available for Pulaski County due to the military’s impact on the county.

After King left, Ransdall called Graves and asked for a “rough estimate” of the cost that the Pulaski County 911 Board would charge Pulaski County for handling entries into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System computer records.

“Michelle says she has some different options and wants me to come up and talk with her since she thought some options would be better for us than others,” Ransdall said to his colleagues after getting off the phone.

Ransdall said Graves told him that she couldn’t act on her own and would need to have decisions made by her board.

Farnham urged Ransdall to become more informed about the work of law enforcement and dispatchers.

“The only thing I’ll say is if you don’t have a police scanner, you should go out and get one to see what they do,” Farnham said.

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