Park City sergeants, in rare public statement, back dispatch merger
Ranking officers highlight ‘unnecessary risk’ when calls are transferred
The sergeants of the Park City Police Department in early December signed a letter to the Park City Council supporting an idea to merge the dispatch operations of the department with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
It was an extraordinarily rare public statement from the sergeants as a group. The chief of police or the department’s captains more typically make statements about agency policies. Sergeants, ranking fourth in the department hierarchy, have direct oversight of officers in the field during their shifts and help craft Police Department procedures.
The Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office are discussing whether to pursue a merger as a result of a state report that looked into 911 emergency systems in Utah with the possibility of consolidating some of the 911 centers. The goal is to reduce the number of calls that are transferred between agencies, which is seen as leading to more rapid responses by the authorities. The Police Department operates a secondary 911 center while the Sheriff’s Office runs a primary one.
The two-page letter from the six Police Department sergeants says the support of a merger is not based on displeasure with the department’s existing staff of dispatchers. Instead, there is concern that “being a secondary 911 center creates an inherently greater risk for officers, visitors and citizens.” Time is critical in a variety of cases, the letter says.
“Generally we estimate a three to five minute delay from the time a 911 call is received at Summit County, transferred and then dispatched to our officers; and we believe this to be an unacceptable and unnecessary risk,” the letter says.
The sergeants say there is a shared dispatch software between the two agencies, meaning officers in the city immediately see when a 911 call is made to Summit County from an address in Park City. Officers head to the scene prior to the call being transferred to Park City dispatchers, according to the letter.
“When this happens, officers are arriving on potentially life threatening situations with little or no information. A single call center rectifies this problem and allows our officers to receive pertinent information without delay,” the sergeants say.
They provide an example of a 911 call involving a report of a man with a gun at Park City Medical Center earlier in 2016. The weapon was a BB gun, it was later determined. The dispatchers in Summit County who fielded the call sent Summit County deputies and Utah Highway Patrol troopers even as the police also responded, the letter says.
“However, a lot of unnecessary confusion was created as Park City resources and Summit County resources responded to the same scene on different on different radio channels with dispatchers trying to communicate with officers and other dispatchers at the same time,” the letter says. “In this case, we were lucky and the suspect was subdued by hospital security and the gun was not real. It was a sobering reminder to all of us that communication problems during an actual active gunman call could result in unnecessary loss of life.”
Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council on Thursday are scheduled to discuss the potential of a merger of dispatch operations at a meeting starting at 3:45 p.m. at the Marsac Building. The elected officials at the meeting could signal whether they want to pursue a merger.
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