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Proposal would consolidate metro 911 operations in Mo., but dispatchers have concerns

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- KCMO leaders are considering a proposal to change the way police handle 911 calls in our area by creating a regional dispatch center. They believe consolidation will cut costs and make emergency responses more efficient, according to a KCPD memo obtained by FOX 4 News.

But some dispatchers are worried about how it will affect their jobs and their pensions, telling FOX 4 they have many questions about how the regional dispatch center would operate.

KCPD currently operates its own dispatch center, as do many of the smaller surrounding police departments. But if approved, this plan would mean all 911 calls for police would be handled under the same roof.

The memo lists Johnson County, Kan., as an example of a nearby area that already operates a regional dispatch center for multiple departments.

Located in Olathe, the $20 million building houses dispatchers who answer calls for 10 fire departments, 10 city police departments, two EMS agencies and the sheriff's office.

“It allows better sharing of information and coordination of activity because, as you know, any major public safety event or daily event involves police, fire and EMS,” explained Walter Way, the director of emergency management and communication for Johnson County, Kan.

Way said the dispatch center opened in June 2009 and contains $4 million worth of new technology.

“There has always been a high level of collaboration and sharing of resources and working together,” Way said of the Johnson County, Kan., area, “so we already had the culture and willingness to do so, we just had to create the physical structure.”

The KCPD memo lays out details of how the new dispatch center would work: eliminate the department’s communications unit; reduce the number of civilian jobs assigned to the police department by more than 100; and merge resources with emergency services dispatch centers in nearby towns to operate together under the umbrella of a third-party, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).

“Part of the idea is to look at ways we can improve service – that's the ultimate goal,” said Keith Faddis, director of the public safety program at MARC.

“We're now working on sharing radio systems. So the next conversation is, can we share the dispatching part of that? Where can we share services and make us more efficient, provide better service, and save money?”

The memo said consolidating resources could reduce the general fund budget allocated to KCPD by about $5 million a year. It also lists Missouri House Bill 714, which would add a tax for 911 operations onto the cell phone bills of Missouri residents, as a way to help fund the regional dispatch center.

But Faddis said each department would still have to pay for dispatch services based on call volume, and he admits there are “tremendous challenges” to seeing the plan through.

“One, it’s a big change and people are resistant to change until they know exactly what’s going on,” he explained.

The president of the Kansas City police union refused an interview with FOX 4, but the union's website says it will oppose the move and urges members to attend a meeting next month.

“Are we going to have to find a new facility?” Faddis pondered. “Are we going to have to change this, change that? And it’s going to depend on what we see as the issues we have to address.”

FOX 4 asked Kansas City, Mo. Police Chief Darryl Forte for an interview, but he said his schedule was booked Wednesday afternoon. According to the memo, he and Deputy Chief Patty Higgins signed off on the proposed plan a few months ago.

As for other police chiefs in surrounding towns, North Kansas City Police Chief Steve Beamer said, “Our city council has been involved in some discussions regarding consolidating a dispatch center. At this point in time, North Kansas City is taking a wait-and-see approach once we have a better understanding of how things would operate.”

Liberty Police Chief James Simpson told FOX 4 he believes a regional dispatch center would help smaller departments who are experiencing understaffing and funding issues, as well as save taxpayer money by eliminating a duplication of emergency services.

Gladstone Police Chief Mike Hasty said, “We want to make sure we are doing this in a cost-effective way to deliver better response times and better coordinate resources. Finances are tight and we want to be thoughtful in our approach.”

The Kansas City, Mo., City Council was supposed to vote Wednesday on whether to move forward with the plan, but talks were postponed until May 6.

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