City makes switch to Park Public Safety dispatch

Transition started Nov. 4, with City dispatchers remaining for one final week

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 4, 2013

Although callers can still speak to certain members of the City Public Safety Department if they call (313) 886-3200, emergency calls and requests for service switched over to Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety’s dispatch as of the morning of Nov. 4, City Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni said.

“We switched the phones over at 9 a.m.,” said Poloni that morning, adding that he expected the switch to 911 in the Park would happen by 10 a.m.

He said the City’s dispatchers will still be working this week in case there are any problems, and they’ll be spending a few hours each day with Park dispatchers.

“We had to schedule (our dispatchers) in case there were any problems (during the transition),” Poloni said.

The City’s two full-time dispatchers are going to retire under an agreement they reached with the City, but the three part-time dispatchers “unfortunately are looking for work,” he said. Unlike the changeover that occurred several years ago when Grosse Pointe Shores switched its emergency dispatch operations to Grosse Pointe Farms, and the Farms hired the Shores’ two remaining full-time dispatchers, Poloni said the Park didn’t hire any of the City’s dispatchers.

Because of a City policy not allowing members of the Public Safety Department to speak publicly while employed — which Poloni said would include the dispatchers through the end of the week — the dispatchers were not able to comment on the change.

The loss of in-house dispatchers means that as of Monday, anyone arrested by City officers is now being taken to the Park’s lockup facility, not the City’s, Poloni said. Dispatchers previously monitored the City’s lockup. There are also policy changes for the City’s officers, he said.

“This isn’t just a phone switch,” Poloni said.

Poloni was the public safety director in Grosse Pointe Shores when that city merged its dispatch operations with Grosse Pointe Farms in 2011. Having seen the somewhat rocky transition the Shores experienced, especially with regard to the new phone system, Poloni said the City made the phone changes in advance.

Most of the time, there will still be an officer at the front desk, where the dispatchers once worked. Poloni said from about 7 a.m.-10 p.m. each day, the officer who had been assigned upstairs to man the fire trucks would now be on the desk, unless he had a fire run in the City or in another community through the mutual aid pact. That officer is also responsible for maintaining vehicles, so Poloni said there might be times when he might not be sitting at the front desk, but visitors will be able to activate a buzzer to get someone’s attention, if needed.

There will also be a phone at the City Public Safety Department for visitors to use to contact the appropriate person they need to speak with, whether that’s a dispatcher, a detective, a supervisor or an administrator like Poloni.

“The majority of the time, anytime someone comes into (the public safety lobby), someone will be there,” Poloni said.

Whether people use the phone inside the building or call from their homes, he said they need to listen to all of the phone tree options available to callers.

“Listen to the recording before making a selection,” Poloni said. “We don’t want every call going to Grosse Pointe Park. We just want people to listen carefully to the menu before making a choice.”

If people think they’re in danger or if they’re witnessing a crime in progress, Poloni said they should always dial 911 immediately. If they see suspicious activity they think might need to be investigated, or if they need to have an officer come to their home for another reason, he said they can call the (313) 886-3200 number and press “1,” which will also connect them to a dispatcher, who can then get more information about the situation from the caller.

Other services that had been handled before by dispatchers, such as the issuance of bike and dog licenses, will now be taken care of at City Hall, Poloni said. That means people seeking such licenses will need to visit those offices on a weekday during normal business hours, because at press time, he said those licenses weren’t available online. Still, Poloni said the City gets “very few walk-ins” for bike licenses, because he said officers go to local schools a couple of times a year and register student bikes there.

“I don’t think people will miss any services,” Poloni said.

Unlike the Farms, which added dispatchers to handle the anticipated increased call volume from the Shores, the Park isn’t adding another dispatcher now. This spring, Poloni told the City council that there’s a provision in the contract with the Park to add a second dispatcher during peak times “if we see there’s a problem” with existing staffing levels. If a part-time dispatcher eventually gets added for those peak periods, the contract states that the City would need to pay the Park an additional $8,000 annually, on top of the $92,000 annual payment the City will already be giving the Park to cover dispatching over the next two years. After the 2014-15 fiscal year, the contract will increase based on the rate of inflation, as determined by the State Tax Commission. The City was also responsible for phone line transfer costs, which were covered by a state grant.

The original target date for the changeover was Sept. 1, but Poloni said a “major renovation” of the Park’s dispatching area — including new desks and equipment — fell behind schedule, forcing a delay. The City had anticipated saving $30,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year by making the change as of Sept. 1. Poloni said he didn’t know exactly how much savings would be achieved by making the switch two months later. City officials had announced earlier this year that annual savings by having the Park handle dispatching would be about $100,000 after the first year. Poloni said he didn’t believe the loss of two months would cause budget problems.

“There’ll be a little less savings in year one” because of the delay, he said.

City leaders decided to eliminate their dispatching operations to save money.

“I am very pleased with the cooperative relationship that the city of Grosse Pointe has with the city of Grosse Pointe Park to enable this service delivery partnership to take place,” City Manager Pete Dame said by email on Monday. “I am also appreciative of the grant support from the State of Michigan that has offset the initial startup capital costs for this endeavor. This is the kind of initiative that is needed to deal with the lack of viable financing options for local governments in Michigan in the face of serious drops of property taxes and revenues sharing from the state. Taken from successful models of shared dispatching from all across the state and country, hopefully this partnership will continue to build a case for additional partnerships like this in the Grosse Pointes that maintain service for citizens while delivering it in a more efficient manner.”

Although officials believe they should be able to avoid some of the hiccups that occurred between the Farms and Shores, they recognize that the new system might require additional tweaking in the future.

“We expect everything to go smoothly, and we’ll make any changes (we need to make) along the way,” Poloni said.