Beverly Hills, BirminghamJune 25, 2012
Dispatch consolidation to begin June 28
By Robin Ruehlen and Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writers
BIRMINGHAM/BEVERLY HILLS — Following months of hard work and collaboration between the Beverly Hills Public Safety Department and the Birmingham Police Department, the dispatch consolidation effort will be fully functional June 28.
Village Manager Chris Wilson said in a June 15 letter to the Village Council that although the contract between both entities was scheduled for service to begin July 1, the departments chose to change the date to June 28.
“As July 1 is a Sunday, it was decided to make the initial transfer on Thursday to ensure that all systems are working properly and allow for the ability to address any issues that may arise prior to the weekend,” Wilson wrote.
The idea for the consolidation was sparked five years ago, when Birmingham retained auditing and advisory firm Plante & Moran to find out where the city could cut costs in police and fire services. The firm returned a report recommending a consolidation of dispatch resources with another community. Bloomfield Township and Beverly Hills both entered into talks with the city, and according to Birmingham City Manager Robert Bruner, the city decided earlier this year that a deal with Beverly Hills was the right choice at this time.
By mid-April, both the Birmingham City Commission and the Beverly Hills Village Council had approved the measure, and both departments began making preparations to move dispatch operations for the village over to Birmingham’s facilities.
The agreement stipulates that 911 calls made in Beverly Hills will be automatically rerouted to Birmingham’s call center. There, Birmingham dispatchers will locate and send a Beverly Hills police car and officers to the caller’s location. For its services, Beverly Hills will pay the city a fee of $232,500 for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which amounts to about 35 percent of the operating costs for Birmingham police.
In addition to saving on operating costs, Birmingham will benefit from the deal when it comes to upgrading dispatch equipment. The state of Michigan will allocate funds to both communities to help with the costs of replacing outdated technology. The funds, which are derived from 911 phone charges, will no longer be necessary in Beverly Hills when the consolidation takes place, so the village’s stipend of about $10,000 will go to Birmingham to help with nearly $100,000 in estimated upgrades.
According to Wilson, the move should save the village about $250,000 in its first year and about $175,000 each year after. Those savings, Wilson said, could easily be put toward hiring an additional patrol officer.
As for the staff already in place in the village, preparations are going smoothly. Beverly Hills Public Safety Director Richard Torongeau told the council on Tuesday that the “phones are ringing, up and running, and the cameras are on so that the front door can be unlocked.
“It’s been a long, long process, and it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be, but we’re there now, and it works well,” Torongeau said.
Councilman Brian LaFerriere said he wanted residents to be assured that the system works well, and dispatchers will be ready to “reasonably and reliably” communicate with all Beverly Hills vehicles and officers.
“One of the benefits of our new chief is that he’s ‘underspoken,’” LaFerriere joked.
“He under-promises and over-delivers consistently, and it’s a pleasure to have him here. A great deal of testing has gone on that I’m personally aware of, and I think we can have a great deal of confidence that the transition will be very smooth.”
According to Cmdr. Terry Kiernan of the Birmingham Police Department, his staff has also spent the past couple of months gearing up for the switch. While preparations aren’t complete just yet, he said his staff will be ready to take calls from Beverly Hills residents when the time comes.
“We’ll be ready in time. The radios are done —we’re all on the same channel, or talk group.”
When Birmingham officially takes over dispatch responsibilities for the village, Kiernan expects that the only issues that will likely arise will come from the two departments merging their usual routines into one. He said every station has its own way of doing things, and the officers should have no problems coming together.
Kiernan said that with the consolidation, Birmingham dispatchers will have the advantage of a third dispatch station in their call center to better handle operations, along with brand-new 911 equipment, which he said should be in place by mid-July.
“We’ll try to conform to the way they like to do things. Nothing is ever 100 percent perfect, but I’d like it to be 99 percent when we get there.”
As for concerns that Birmingham police staff may have trouble dispatching Beverly Hills Public Safety officers to both police and fire calls, Kiernan said he doesn’t foresee any issues. Officers for the village are specially trained to handle police work as well as fire emergencies. When dispatchers in Birmingham notify village officers of a fire, those officers will retrieve their gear and trucks and respond to the scene as usual.
“Birmingham has two fire stations, and we dispatch for them. The difference is that instead of calling the fire station, you call their officers,” he said. “We’re not changing operations, only changing who answers the phone call.”
Birmingham dispatcher Anita Burns has been with the department for 20 years, and she said she and her fellow officers are ready for the consolidation, even though it means more responsibility, and in turn, more pressure.
“I think I am (ready). I’m going to be wearing more hats, but everyone here is able to multitask. We’re all used to giving the best service we can so customers’ needs will be met.”
Burns added that while it may take some time, residents in both communities will eventually be pleased with the results of the partnership.
“There will be kinks to be worked out, maybe over a few months, but then they’ll be able to eventually trust us,” she said of Beverly Hills residents. “We’re not going to leave them by the wayside.”
Bruner said he expects residents of the village will see enhanced service, while both municipalities save money on payroll and facility upgrades.
“Beverly Hills will gain a dispatcher. They usually have one on duty at most times, and we have two on at most times,” he said. “Both (communities) will benefit from mutual aid. They’ll be able to back each other up on calls, which already happens, but this will make the process quicker.”
Kiernan agreed, saying that the two departments have had a good relationship for at least 32 years, at least since he’s been a part of the Birmingham department. This move will only enhance that working rapport, and the only thing residents will see is better service.
“We’re both professional departments, so from the public standpoint it will be completely seamless.”
Two weeks before the scheduled date of the switch, Bruner released a statement saying that both municipalities stand to save between 30 and 40 percent annually from the consolidation. In addition, he said Birmingham will save on equipment replacement costs with financial contributions from the village, while Beverly Hills will be spared from having to upgrade its own facilities — a savings of $100,000.
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