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Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007 10:04 pm

The 411 on 911

Mahoney presses for answers about dispatch center

Untitled Document Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney has repeatedly reported his constituents’ complaints about the Sangamon County 911 Dispatch Center, and this week his persistence finally paid off.      He raised the issue with Ralph Caldwell, chief of the Springfield Police Department, at last week’s City Council meeting and again with Robert Williams, new assistant police chief, at Monday’s meeting of the public-affairs and safety committee, requesting that the director of the dispatch center meet with aldermen to address constituents’ concerns.      A recurring complaint, and one of the most worrisome, Mahoney says, is that residents sometimes wait two hours before law-enforcement or other emergency personnel respond to their 911 calls.
     “If people can’t count on a 911 call, what can they count on?” Mahoney says. “It’s there for emergency situations, so if there is an emergency, someone should respond.”
     The issue is further complicated, says Mahoney, by constituents’ dissatisfaction with the dispatch center’s nonemergency numbers. He says that residents feel that they are given “the runaround” and wind up calling 911 for problems such as loud music.      Caldwell says that the police department has received similar complaints but attributes the problem to general confusion over the workings of the dispatch center — which receives calls for the Springfield Police Department, the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office, and all of the county’s fire and emergency situations.      “The aldermen thought if they called that number they were getting a police officer, but it’s always been a dispatcher,” Caldwell says. “They thought they had complaints with the police department, but in reality they weren’t happy with the response from the 911 center.”
    Tod Rowe, who took over as director of the Sangamon County 911 Dispatch Center in February, says that he inherited several issues, including serious understaffing. He says he has worked to fill the open positions with qualified candidates.
     “One of the biggest issues is that dispatchers work between 60 and 70 hours a week,” Rowe says. “When your people work that amount of hours, you’re setting yourself up for mistakes.”
     Rowe also admits that his dispatchers were overwhelmed with the amount of daily calls coming in on 25 different nonemergency numbers. The dispatch center’s floor plan was recently altered and several employees have had their duties changed to free up dispatchers to “truly focus on emergencies,” he says.      Rowe will further address these issues and answer other questions regarding dispatch-center procedures at a Sept. 17 meeting of the public-affairs and safety committee.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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