MARICOPA — The Maricopa Fraternal Order of Police has voiced its opposition to the city’s consideration of dissolving the current 911 dispatch center and outsourcing dispatch services to the city of Chandler.
The Maricopa Emergency Communications Center dispatches Maricopa Police officers to emergency and non-emergency situations and is located inside the Maricopa Police Department.
The city is currently conducting a study on the dispatch center which, according to city officials, is to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the center. This efficacy study runs concurrently to the city’s consideration of closing the center and outsourcing 911 dispatch services to Chandler.
In a letter dated April 23, FOP President Craig Curry said that such a move would be detrimental to public safety in the city.
“We take very seriously the need to speak out on behalf of our member-officers, public safety workers and the general public whenever and wherever we fear that public safety is about to be compromised,” the letter stated. “We believe closing the ECC would be short-sighted, ‘pennywise and pound foolish’ and — most importantly — that it will absolutely reduce public safety effectiveness in the City of Maricopa.”
The FOP argues that outsourcing dispatch services for Maricopa could result in increased response times and more competition for calls. According to Public Safety Communications Manager Jennifer Hagan, current Maricopa 911 operators field around 185 calls a day for a total of about 65,000 calls every year. Data submitted by the FOP shows the ECC received 14,147 emergency calls in 2018 and 16,155 in 2019.
In March, Maricopa Dispatch Supervisor Linda Smith told PinalCentral that 911 calls increased again in 2020.
“Call volume-wise, we had a slight call shift to where we got more 911 calls in 2020 than we did the previous year,” Smith said. “We took less admin calls, but got more 911 calls.”
The city finished building the ECC in 2016. The FOP’s letter quotes several city documents that touted the new center for its effectiveness and cutting-edge technologies.
“The ECC has been a light-years improvement from ‘the old days’ of Maricopa public safety, when emergency police calls were dispatched from Buckeye,” the FOP letter states. “This arrangement was, to put it diplomatically, less than ideal — which sparked the movement to build the city’s own ECC in the first place. Emergency 911 calls were frequently mishandled or shunted to the back of the line.”
The police union also voiced concerns that dispatchers in another city will not be able to pinpoint the location of emergencies as quickly and easily as a local can. Of the 11 dispatchers employed at the ECC, at least seven live in the city of Maricopa. Smith stated in March that having previous knowledge of landmarks is important to dispatching services quickly.
“A lot of times callers don’t know exactly where they are and they’ll just pick out a point of interest, they’ll say, ‘I’m at the blue barn,’ or, ‘I’m at the old Hogenes farm,’ or something like that,” Smith said. “It really does help to be familiar with the area that you’re trying to send help to them.”
Concerns about a possible dissolution came from the community as well. Rumors were swirling in the months leading up to the FOP’s letter, and a concerned constituent came before the City Council on April 20 to voice her dissent.
The 13-year resident of Maricopa and grandmother detailed crimes that had occurred in her community over the previous months including a drive-by shooting and carjacking and asked that the center remain in the city.
“What I’m hearing about the 911 dispatchers and the possibility of them being moved to Chandler, I’m not pleased with that at all,” said a resident at the April 20 City Council meeting. “I will ask you to please keep our police dispatchers here. They know us. … We have a large population now, getting larger, and I think we can take care of our own people. I wanna know when I pick up that phone because of a drive-by shooting, I wanna know it’s my people receiving my call.”
In a response letter to the FOP dated May 4, City Manager Rick Horst stated Chandler was identified as a possible partner for the following reasons:
He also stated these evaluations are part of regular protocol for the city, and the move will only be made if it is beneficial to both parties.
“We are first evaluating if the cost of contracting with Chandler would be feasible and sustainable for the long term,” Horst wrote in his response letter. “If it appears this would be beneficial to both parties, further analysis in terms of customer service and logistics will be addressed. We are thankful for Chandler partnering with us on this evaluation to see if this is an option that will lead to the betterment of both of our dispatching programs.”
Assistant City Manager Jennifer Brown said the deal will hinge first and foremost on costs associated with contracting with Chandler.
“The first step is to understand what the cost will look like if we went there, because that might be a non-starter right from the get-go,” Brown said. “We know a lot of the services that they can offer us and how and what their setup is … but until we know what it would cost, we have no idea if we can go there.”
Chandler is the only city currently being considered by Maricopa for this partnership.
The city is also currently in the process of building an $8 million police station at Wilson and Garvey avenues. If the city decides to continue the ECC, Brown said the city is still unsure if the dispatch center will remain in the existing building or move to the new building with the rest of the department. Brown said space is not a factor in these considerations.
In the event of a closure, Brown said the operators would be offered other city roles. Those operators interested in moving to the Chandler dispatch center would need to contact Chandler as the employer.
Brown said this consideration falls in line with the city’s consolidation plan in general and reflects current national trends.
“Consolidation … is really the way of the future. Dispatching is very expensive,” Brown said. “When you consolidate, you bring that group and that energy and those powers together to do an even better job. This has been kind of a trend throughout the country.”