Dispatch consolidation plans in the works for Birmingham, Beverly Hills

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 21, 2012

Since 2007, the city of Birmingham has considered partnering with a neighboring community to consolidate police dispatch services and share operating costs. During the City Commission meeting March 19, City Manager Robert Bruner told the commission that such a plan, with the village of Beverly Hills, may finally be in the works.

“Birmingham and Bloomfield Township have been in talks, and then Beverly Hills came into the discussion. We got to the point where we could make a recommendation,” said Bruner.

Bruner, along with Deputy Police Chief Mark Clemence, presented a report to the City Commission detailing the plan to have Birmingham Police take over dispatch services for Beverly Hills, saying the move could save both communities money since both dispatch centers need to be updated at a cost of about $100,000 each. The state will allocate funds from 911 phone charges to each department to be put towards the cost of upgrading dispatch equipment, giving $34,000 to Birmingham and $10,000 to Beverly Hills. If Birmingham takes over dispatch duties for the village, Beverly Hills could forgo the upgrade costs and pool its state funds with Birmingham to cut down on the capital costs of the merger. Since Birmingham would own the equipment, the city would cover the other 56 percent of upgrade costs not covered by the state.

Both municipalities could also save on salary costs annually since Bruner and Clemence are confident the city could handle Beverly Hills’ dispatch needs without adding any additional costs.  Dispatch positions in Beverly Hills would likely be eliminated, said Bruner, who added that any savings the municipalities gain could potentially be put towards adding additional officers on the street, or at least keeping on ones already there.

“Both communities have a 24/7 dispatch center, and you’re paying people to sit there whether the phone rings or not. So to have people sitting at one location as opposed to two locations is cheaper,” said Bruner. “We can save both communities between 30 and 40 percent, and we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The process began five years ago when the Birmingham City Commission directed then-City Manager Thomas Markus to team up with auditing and advisory firm Plante & Moran to analyze a possible consolidation of police and fire services with Bloomfield Township. A final report issued in 2009 revealed that consolidating dispatch centers as opposed to entire departments would provide the greatest savings without risking quality of service. Around that time, Beverly Hills retained the same advisory firm to review its dispatch options, and the village joined Birmingham and Bloomfield Township in their discussions. At this time, Bruner said, a partnership between Beverly Hills and Birmingham seems to make the most sense, though that doesn’t mean that Bloomfield Township couldn’t be included in the future if it becomes mutually beneficial.

Clemence told the commission that little would change as far as daily operations if the consolidation happened. Emergency 911 calls would be instantly routed to Birmingham’s dispatch facility, and personnel at that location would send a Beverly Hills officer and car to that location. Since Beverly Hills police and fire are combined into one department and Birmingham has separate departments for each, staff would be trained to handle calls accordingly.

Clemence did say that the two municipalities could have to share airtime on the same radio channel, but even that isn’t entirely bad, he said, since Birmingham would be in the know about happenings in the nearby Beverly Hills area and vice-versa.

“Operationally, I’m confident in the core staff of five we have. There’s no loss to our residents, and I think it will be an increase in service for Beverly Hills in that there will be more staff to answer their calls,” said Clemence.

Bruner and Clemence closed their presentation to the commission saying that at this point, the ball is in Beverly Hills’ court. If an agreement is made between the two city managers, a proposal would go before both governing bodies for a vote.

Beverly Hills City Manager Chris Wilson said that while such a plan might be a good idea, there’s much work to be done before the village takes any action to combine its dispatch with Birmingham.

“We have an offer on the table from Birmingham for a joint dispatch service. Conceptually, we think an agreement is possible, and we’re currently working on a counter proposal to their offer,” said Wilson, who said the village would like to rework some of the language in the proposal regarding service and liability, as well as the pay structure and how capital costs would be allocated.

Wilson said he expects that he and Bruner will continue to work together in the coming days on an agreement, and Bruner thinks a proposal could go before governing bodies as soon as early April.