Special workshop outlines improvements to public and officer safety
Zephyrhills City Council has made a move toward consolidating the city’s emergency dispatch service with Pasco County 911 in an effort to improve public safety and the safety of the city’s police officers.
During a special workshop session Thursday evening, Zephyrhills Police Chief Derek Brewer made a presentation to members of city council outlining current and possible future deficiencies in city’s system. He laid out three options for the city which included leaving the system as it is, come up with a hybrid system with the county or consolidate the service entirely with Pasco County.
Brewer detailed the current system where more than 60 percent of all emergency calls are already handled by Pasco County. All 911 calls made with wireless phones go directly to Pasco County call takers. Information is gathered and the call is transferred to Zephyrhills Police call takers and dispatchers. More information is gathered and an officer is dispatched.
City Manager Billy Poe reassured council that the information gathering and call transfer happens in a matter of seconds, not minutes.
“Sometimes seconds can save a life,” said councilman Alan Knight.
Poe agreed and in those five to 10 seconds, Pasco County answers the call, asks the key questions and transfers to Zephyrhills where the same questions could be asked again.
All parties concurred that consolidating dispatch is by no means any step toward consolidating the police department with the county. ZPD has been a service provided by the city since 1914 and it will remain that way.
“The sheriff’s office cannot provide the same level of service as the Zephyrhills Police Department provides to the citizens of this community,” Poe said. “The level of service would not be matched.”
Council agreed to initiate preliminary steps toward consolidating the dispatch which includes a critical component of a feasibility study to determine the advantages and disadvantages come with consolidation and the cost involved.
It was pointed out Knight that county dispatchers are sometimes not aware of locations in the city by name and that delays the transfer to the city dispatchers.
“I’m going to say that 90 percent of the people will break the umbilical cord to the land line and use a wireless device, which will send more calls directly to the county,” Knight said.
Last week, Brewer provided members of council an in-depth 17 page analysis outlining the options and next steps that would accompany each option. Brewer said the end result is to determine what the optimal alternative consolidation of dispatch and records management between the city and the county.
Brewer emphatically stressed to members of city council that if dispatch is consolidated with the county, the city dispatch staff which choose to stay will not lose their jobs. They will be reassigned to different positions, but will remain with the city.
“I feel confident that no matter which alternative we choose, our staff will be taken care of,” Brewer said.
The loss of local control is a concern for Brewer. Zephyrhills has been an autonomous department since 1914.
“I have a lot of pride where I work,” Brewer said. “I feel we provide a good service to our citizens. Losing some of that control scares me a little.”
He followed up that analysis with the presentation at the workshop pointing out that advancements in technology are coming quickly and the city’s system is antiquated.
The chief also noted that consolidation was proposed to the City of Zephyrhills in 2012, but was not implemented citing potential costs and at the time, city stakeholders did not view the merger as beneficial.
He pointed out that consolidation now would not be a cost-saving measure. Additional costs would be incurred initially as well as annual costs. The city currently spends roughly $600,000 on its dispatch department with the majority covering the salaries and benefits.