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Council Delays Decision on Joint Dispatch

About 200 people attended meeting at Waukesha North High School, but Waukesha Common Council wants more information.

After four hours of comment and debate, the Waukesha Common Council Tuesday took no action on whether to consolidate dispatch services with Waukesha County.

The Common Council will take up the issue again in a month, much to the dismay of the approximately 200 people who showed for the meeting at . Several aldermen called for more information about dispatch possibilities before making a decision.

The council is as it looks for ways to trim money out of its tight budgets. The 2012 budget has reduced officer and firefighter positions, and deferred some major leadership positions in attempt to cut costs.

The Waukesha County Communications Center dispatches for more than two dozen agencies in the area. The analysis done by the reviewed calls at some of those agencies, with the Brookfield Police Department saying it had the most problems with county dispatch.

Joining the county’s dispatch center would save the city on average $14 per household per year during the next 10 years, according to an analysis done by the Waukesha Police Department.

Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack Tuesday warned the aldermen about the repercussions about making a permanent dispatch switch after playing recordings of numerous county dispatch calls that were handled incorrectly.

“Once the egg is out of the shell, you can’t put it back together,” Jack said.

No one from Waukesha County was present at the meeting to give information about county dispatch. County Executive Dan Vrakas was invited to the meeting, but declined to give a presentation. Vrakas is calling on Waukesha to complete an independent study on the dispatch services.

“No one has challenged the credibility of the study’s content,” Jack said. “Instead, they don’t like what it said and the recommendation that followed. Had the study recommended consolidation with WCC, I highly doubt anyone from the county would have any problems with the study.”

While officials did not speak during the meeting, the police chief’s presentation included comments from both a retired mayor and a retired sheriff’s deputy. Former Mayor Carol Lombardi, who received a round of applause as she took the stage, shared a history of the city’s dispatch.

Lombardi told the council “my heart would be broken” if the elected representatives suddenly determined that tax savings took priority over safety.

“We are a big community with many, many needs for emergency calls and services,” Lombardi said.

Dave Carpenter, a retired sheriff’s department deputy who spoke during Jack’s presentation, called the city dispatchers “proactive,” while describing county dispatchers as “reactive.”

“Their hands are absolutely tied as to what they can do and how they can do it,” Carpenter said of the county dispatchers.

Aldermen Want More Information

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings received groans from a crowd that favored staying with city dispatch when she spoke about wanting more information about the county dispatch center and explanations about the problematic calls Jack played during his presentation.

Cummings at one point in the meeting said the presentation was “disingenuous at best,” adding that information was given during the presentation that wasn’t previously made available to the aldermen.

“I just don’t think it is responsible to vote tonight,” Cummings said.

Voting to postpone the vote were:

  • Joan Francoeur
  • Steve Johnson
  • Rick Hastings
  • Paul Ybarra
  • Kathleen Cummings
  • Duane Paulson
  • Joe Pieper
  • John Kalblinger

Ready to make an immediate decision were:

  • Andy Reiland
  • Eric Payne
  • Terry Thieme
  • Roger Patton
  • Chris Hernandez
  • Vance Skinner

Alderman Brian White was not present at the meeting.

Payne wanted to vote Tuesday night. In a somewhat surprising statement given his record for voting against major spending decisions, Payne said he wants to stick with city dispatch.

“I am comfortable with our own dispatch,” Payne said. “It is very important that the people feel safe, if it is $20 a year or $10 a month or whatever.”

Aldermen briefly discussed hybrid options to city dispatch, including operating its own dispatch out of the county’s building or dispatching with the City of New Berlin, which is also looking at consolidated dispatch. The city’s dispatch center currently dispatches Waukesha police, fire and emergency medical services calls from the Waukesha Police Department’s building.

Reiland was also ready to vote, although thought the city should further examine different cost-saving options.

“For someone to indicate that they haven’t had time to review this, I think, is inaccurate,” said Reiland about joining county dispatch.

Majority of Public Comments Favor City Dispatch

The meeting was not without an hour of robust public comment in which most speakers — including police officers, dispatchers and former aldermen — asked the council to keep the city’s dispatching services at the Waukesha Police Department.

About two dozen speakers gave their input on the possibility of joining county dispatch, with one woman calling for an independent study of the dispatch centers. Downtown Waukesha resident Ernst Pagels said he was in favor of county dispatch because “the city dispatchers don’t take my concerns seriously.”

Tim Snopek, a freelance photographer, said he is comfortable switching to the county.

“Both dispatch centers do a very good job,” Snopek said.

While some police officers, dispatchers and their family members spoke in favor of keeping dispatch at the city, several Waukesha business owners also spoke.

“It is that leadership that we are really buying,” said Kerry Mackay, owner of . “We are buying the leadership and the accountability, and that is what really counts.”

Waukesha resident Ned Nagy said Waukesha police officers are dedicated and well trained as he asked the city to keep dispatch at the police department.

“If you are asked to do a job, you need to well trained, you need to be dedicated, and you need to have the tools to do that job,” Nagy said. "Let us not deny them the tools.”

Former Alderman Emanuele Vitale brought forward concerns about county dispatchers knowing local streets and landmarks in Waukesha.

“To me, saving dollars should not override public safety,” Vitale said. "I think I would rather see a few more dollars spent in keeping our system as it is.”

911 Cell Phone Calls

One issue with dispatch services is that 911 calls made from cell phones are sent to Waukesha County Communications Center but are then transferred to the city dispatch center. Several speakers addressed the issue, calling for the county to release the 911 cell calls to the city police department instead of waiting for the transfer.

The 911 calls that are made from landlines in the City of Waukesha are sent directly to the city dispatch center. The county could release the 911 cell calls immediately to the city, which is preferred by city police, Jack said.

“There would be no delay because the 911 cell calls would no longer be transferred,” Jack said.

The Muskego Police Department to have the 911 cell phone calls given directly to their dispatchers instead of being routed through the county’s dispatch system.

The county has maintained that the response times are not as long as Muskego has stated, and that the likelihood for misrouted calls could also create a delay should Muskego handle its own 911 service for cellular calls.

Without speaking directly about his city's battle with the county, Muskego Police Chief Paul Geiszler told alderman that Waukesha County has “refused to cooperate with us.”

“If we are allowed to do what we want to do, we will greatly reduce emergency response time we supply our citizens of Muskego,” he said.

Geiszler said he feels Muskego’s fight against the county to release the 911 cell phone calls to its dispatch center is “politically motivated.”

“They want to build their empire,” Geiszler said. “They want all of the standalone public safety answering points that have their own dispatch center to join their communications center. We told them we are not interested. Our Common Council and our mayor unanimously support what we are trying to accomplish.”

Raemond April 20, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Scott, it costs each household $19/year to keep City dispatch. It saves each household $14/year to consolidate with WCC. Pennies! We can save money elsewhere. Besides, WCC's annual cost isn't fixed. It could easily cost more next year. The answer is clear and we need to keep our dispatch.
LifeLongWaukeshaResident April 20, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I wouldn't have said what I did unless I had knowledge of his track record of making the safety of citizens and officers his highest priority.
lifelongres April 20, 2012 at 04:33 PM
The time difference is because WCC refuses to give up the 911 calls going to them first. If city dispatch got their own 911 calls, the processing times would instantly be faster. This is another issue discussed at the meeting that Chief Jack said, "WCC could give us our 911 calls tomorrow." But they won't because it means less calls to take and less of a monopoly they own as 65% of the calls that come into county dispatch are for the city.
Chris B April 20, 2012 at 06:18 PM
@ lifelongres Really? I wonder what the city's current call processing times are for all types of calls??
Informed Citizen April 23, 2012 at 01:27 AM
@ Scott French, the City already has GPS in all Police and Fire vehicles. They've had this working for years now, as part if the Phoenix system. WCC is looking to add that capability but they can't get their new system working. Why take steps backwards? The City dispatch center is years more advanced then WCC! @ Chris B. What is this " error rate" your referring to? You're implying that the City dispatch center is as jacked up, if not more the WCC. How do you know there's an error rate for the City. They take roughly 70,000 calls a year. It appears the City Dispatch is working just fine.

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