March 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

County to shift some dispatch costs to cities

Regional center under discussion
Ryan Lancaster Correspondent
 

The city of Airway Heights, as well as other outlying cities, may soon take over some costs associated with emergency service dispatch fees.

These costs have up to now been assumed by the county, which provides dispatch services to outlying area communities, but because of continual growth, county officials are now asking the city for compensation.

“From a county perspective, this has everything to do with improving services,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “We just can’t continue to function with the growth rate we’re experiencing.”

At last week’s City Council meeting, Airway Heights Deputy Mayor Larry Haskell was sympathetic, telling those present, “Costs are costs and they’re going to be borne, so we’re just working together to see what’s fair and to charge those being served.”

Besides deferring costs to cities, Knezovich said the county has also considered the possibility of a joint regional dispatch call center with the city of Spokane.

“Chief (Anne) Kirkpatrick and I have discussed this for nearly two years now,” said Knezovich. “Whenever you can look at something from a regional standpoint, it will drive down costs – it’s the economy of scale.”

A regional center might also alleviate some of the burden of receiving a high volume of calls with a limited staff. The county’s computer aided dispatch received more than 140,600 incident reports in 2008 – 61,000 from unincorporated areas – but those numbers don’t take into account the many nonemergency calls dispatchers deal with as well, said Knezovich.

The county typically has two dispatchers and a supervisor on duty to handle these calls, with another dispatcher occasionally available to answer an information-only channel.

Knezovich said that, while discussion of a regional call center will continue, several other ventures, including the jail expansion project, will likely take precedence in the coming months. In the interim, he said the county will continue to work with communities to come up with a solution. “We as a region have grown and services haven’t kept up. We need to take a look at where we can cut costs while maintaining services.”

Airway Heights Police Department to move

Another product of population growth is an increasingly cramped headquarters for the Airway Heights police department.

Thirteen officers and an administrative assistant work in a roughly 1,200-square-foot building and a rented portable unit at 13414 W. Sunset Highway.

“We’ve just outgrown our building,” said Police Chief Lee Bennett. “We’re bulging at the seams.”

To remedy this, on April 6 the Airway Heights City Council will consider the approval of a purchase agreement for a building at 1307 S. Ziegler St., which would offer the department an upgraded space of about 4,800 square feet.

Bennett said the police department has been at its current location for at least 13 years, and, since his arrival in 2003, he’s seen a need for more room.

The department handled more than 9,000 emergency calls last year, and serves approximately 5,000 citizens over about 5 square miles on the West Plains.

City Manager Albert Tripp also sees the relocation as a necessary move, given the city’s development trend. “It will give them the opportunity to grow with the city in the future,” said Tripp.

Police to purchase wearable cameras

The Airway Heights police will purchase portable video devices that can be worn, and will record police activity from the officer’s point of view. The department plans to buy 16 VIEVU cameras for $7,800, Bennett said.

“Officers are required to make on-scene judgments,” Bennett said. “This eliminates any he-said-she-said as well as the Monday morning quarterbacks’ second-guessing an officer’s decision.”

Bennett said the cameras afford more flexibility than the dash-mounted variety currently in use that can cost upward of $5,000 a piece.

“We felt that, since this new technology is available at this price, we may as well use it to better capture the scene,” Bennett told council members last week.

According to the VIEVU Web site, video files can be transferred to a computer, where they can be viewed to aid in reporting. The software also prevents tampering with video files and provides a chain of evidence log.

Reach correspondent Ryan Lancaster by e-mail at rklancaster1@yahoo.com


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