The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee on Monday affirmed its recommendation for a $150,000 study of the county’s emergency dispatch system, even after Sheriff Mike Chapman expressed skepticism about the proposal.
The study will examine the merits of consolidating dispatchers across fire and rescue, animal services, and the sheriff’s office at a single location. County staff members had recommended the project be abandoned because of the sheriff’s disinterest.
Chapman said he had not been given information about the study until “late in the game,” and believed it would not result in a combined dispatch system. He also worried about losing accountability for his own dispatchers.
“I don’t know, number one, that there is a problem, or number two, that spending $150,000 would be money that’s well spent on a problem that, as far as I know, doesn’t really exist,” Chapman told supervisors. He also said he found out about the study “late in the game.”
“Your concerns strike me more as concerns about an outcome if the board were to decide to move to a particular model, but tonight we’re talking about a study,” said finance committee Chairman Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
Currently, 911 calls are answered by Loudoun County Fire and Rescue, and if a call is determined to be a police matter, the call is forwarded to a sheriff’s office dispatcher. The caller then must repeat his or her complaint, and if in the course of the call it becomes apparent fire and rescue services may be needed, the call can be sent back again or notes can be shared through the county’s computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system. The county recently opened a new emergency communications center and upgraded its CAD system.
“If I’m a person on the phone, and I’m having the worst moment of my life, and I have to repeat myself at the worst moment of my life to two different people while I’m on the phone, that’s a problem,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
Chapman had also pointed out that many of the other law enforcement departments cited for comparison in a staff report on the issue were police departments or smaller sheriff’s offices. That report did not find a single best practice among the jurisdictions it surveyed—some had standalone dispatch agencies, some were within police departments, and one, Newport News, places its dispatchers under its Department of Information Technology.
“You may not want to talk a whole lot about the fact that all these have happened within police departments, unless you want to make a case for a police department in Loudoun County,” Randall said. “You just kind of made that case, to be quite honest.”
Ultimately, the sheriff conceded he is not opposed to the study itself.
The finance committee voted 5-0 to recommend the Board of Supervisors proceed with the study.