City and County combine 911 dispatch services

Dorchester Banner/Cambridge Police Dispatchers in the county Emergency Management office are now handling Cambridge dispatch as well as county, for police, fire and EMS services. The change from Cambridge dispatch will save money for the city and improve 911 response time.

Dorchester Banner/Cambridge Police
Dispatchers in the county Emergency Management office are now handling Cambridge dispatch as well as county, for police, fire and EMS services. The change from Cambridge dispatch will save money for the city and improve 911 response time.


CAMBRIDGE — After a six month planning process involving representatives from Dorchester County and the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department ceased operation of its dispatch center in the Edward E. Watkins Public Safety Complex at 8 Washington St. At 12:01 a.m. on Friday, city dispatch services were consolidated with the Dorchester County Emergency Services 911 Center on Fieldcrest Road.

Consolidation of the services was proposed and debated late last year, and like most services deeply entrenched in the community, making the decision and proceeding with the change was not without growing pains. In the end, all parties agreed that consolidation made sense, would vastly improve response time, and as an added benefit, would save money for both the Cambridge P.D. and county government.

“This is a monumental day because it is the culmination of six months’ work and an example of the partnership we have been forging with the county. The cost savings is dramatic, the working conditions for dispatchers will improve, and officer safety will be enhanced,” said Chief Dan Dvorak of the Cambridge P.D.

“Since my day one here, everybody has said we need to work more with the county, and I agree,” said Chief Dan. “We work better as a team. I’m so proud of this consolidation because this is the first big thing I’ve been able to achieve since I came here. It took six months to put this into play, but the County Council, and (president) Ricky Travers, County Manager Jeremy Goldman, City Manager Sandra Tripp-Jones — they all worked hard supporting this, working out the numbers and the costs — this is a real team effort. This should be a model for the way regional government should work.”

“Whatever is good for the city (of Cambridge) is good for the county,” said County Manager Jeremy Goldman. “This is an excellent example of what can happen when the city and county work together. Everybody saves resources, and everybody gets a better output product.”

In addition, cost savings were realized by both the county and the Cambridge Police. Closing the Cambridge P.D. 911 center will result in approximately $220,000 savings annually, due to eliminated positions. Prior to the changes, Cambridge P.D. was paying approximately $400,000 per year to staff and maintain their dispatch service.

The county will be charging Cambridge Police approximately $180,000 annually to pay the cost of adding extra staff to cover the dispatch needs for Cambridge. Additionally, Cambridge police are realizing a large savings on the cost of the new PSSI software, as it is being added as an additional node to the county server and not an outright purchase of a new system.

Additional to the cost savings for the city, the county is also realizing a modest cost savings. As part of the 911 agreement, the city agreed to waive a $36,000 lease fee charged to the county for storage of the EMS equipment at the Watkins Public Safety Complex.

“This is a reduction of unnecessary redundancy in dispatch staffing, a reduction of expenses for the city, which is in the best interest of the city, and definitely in the best interest of the city taxpayers,” said County Manager Goldman.

One major difficulty overcome in the process was computer related. Both the county sheriff and the Cambridge P.D. used different types of records management software, mutually incompatible. Cambridge used CIS software, and the county uses PSSI (Public Safety Systems Incorporated) software. As part of consolidation, the city agreed to switch to PSSI software to make interaction seamless between the two departments.

Cambridge P.D., according to Chief Dan, will be able to convert all of their historical case data to the new software system, and that conversion is being done now. However, he added that conversion of Cambridge P.D.’s existing data to the PSSI software system is taking longer than expected, and the city will have to double-enter call data until the data conversion is finished, which is expected by Aug. 1.
Phone lines were a worry, but easily connected by the telephone company. The communication radios were already set up to communicate between the departments, so switching over to the CPD channel connects the county to the city police.

Communications systems were easily set up, according to Chief Dan. “The difficult part was small items—like, say, an officer pulls up to the garage with a suspect in the car, and wants to push a button to open the door. That system was all software based, and we had to work that through the new system and make it work again.”

Another valid point is, what if someone runs into the front door of the police department for help? “I’m going to put one of my records clerks down there,” replied Chief Dan, “from 8:00 til 4:00, to handle any walk-ins. For after hours, we’re installing a video phone that will connect with 911, and anyone needing help only has to push the button to get an officer there.”

In the past, any calls concerning Cambridge received through the county 911 service would be received by the county, then the county had to make a separate phone call to Cambridge to pass on the information, and vice versa. Now, County Sheriff, Cambridge Police, and fire and EMS services are literally all in the same room on Fieldcrest Road, and dispatch of any 911 call is immediate—without the additional phone call.

According to Chief Dan, the Cambridge Police receives 40,000 dispatch calls per year.

“We have an excellent team,” said County Manager Jeremy Goldman. “Chief Dvorak is, and continues to be a super partner, and I can speak highly enough of the relationship between the county law enforcement agencies and the 911 center, and Chief Dan and his team. It’s really been a pleasure to work on a project that could have been a nightmare. And it wasn’t a nightmare because everybody had skin in the game, and everybody wanted this to succeed.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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