Sheriff’s office may be getting a bigger, better dispatch center

The dispatch center at the Portage County Sheriff’s Office could double in size, expanding from four to eight consoles, under an $800,000 plan the office proposed during the Sept. 1 county commission meeting. 

From January to June this year, the dispatch center took 6,000 more calls than it did last year during the same time period, Chief Deputy Ralph Spidalieri told commissioners.

“We’ve been running four stations, but with our call volume we should be monitoring six stations on a continuous basis,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on our dispatchers as far as the stress level of managing those calls.”

The expansion would enable training activities to take place while dispatchers are carrying out their normal duties.

It would also create space for providing mutual assistance during emergencies. For instance, he said, the sheriff’s office has an agreement with the Kent State University Police Department allowing them to use the university’s dispatch center if the sheriff’s dispatch communications tower is destroyed in a tornado or other disaster. The KSU police have enough equipment and space to handle additional staff; the inverse is not true.

Estimating a total $800,000 price tag, Spidalieri noted that supply chain issues mean the center may not be up and running until April or May 2023.

Commissioners reacted favorably to Spidalieri’s request, indicating they will examine the proposal before committing ARPA funds to the project. Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett  said after Thursday’s meeting that her vote is contingent on that funding being available.

Currently, the sheriff’s office fields 911 calls from communities across the county, and must transfer those calls to the nearest first responder, Spidalieri said.

“The fire departments are the big one,” he told The Portager after the meeting. “That’s the problem. A lot of the fire departments get dispatched from Ravenna, so if we get a 911 call from Deerfield, we got to transfer that call to Ravenna, and then Ravenna dispatches the fire departments. If we get a call in Atwater, we have to transfer that call to Nimishillen, which is in Stark County, which dispatches for them.”

The results are potentially disastrous, he said.

“We had a situation approximately three months ago where an 18-year-old killed his 9-year-old brother in Windham,” Spidalieri told the commissioners. “The call came in to us. We put him on standby because Streetsboro dispatches for the police department there. So while that happened he hung up.”

Fortunately, the PCSO dispatcher had enough information to send deputies, but not enough to know if other residents or first responders were in danger.

“Finally he calls back again, so we transferred it to Streetsboro. Streetsboro talks to him, and all of this time is lost,” Spidalieri said.

Describing what he termed a “maze” that benefits no one, Spidalieri said Streetsboro then had to ask the sheriff’s office to dispatch fire responders and to alert Ravenna to send rescue personnel.

“If we were dispatching for the police department and we were dispatching directly to the fire department that would never have happened because we would have been able to send units immediately,” he said. “We don’t have the availability to handle all the departments with just what we have in place.”

The new dispatch center would also have a bulletproof window, he said, noting that dispatchers now work in a room without any windows at all.

“This is going to be a huge plus and a huge step in the right direction for the county,” Spidalieri said by way of expressing his gratitude.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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