LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Saline Police Dispatcher Statement on City's Consideration
I am one of your dispatchers for the Saline Police Department. I am representing myself as a citizen of this town. I am not speaking as a representative of the police department, my coworkers, or the Chief. I am here to explain to you why it is so important that you keep your dispatchers. The #1 reason we should keep dispatch, is because we are accommodating to all citizens and here to help.
Many of you may not know, but there are a lot of citizens here in Saline that are regarded by others as ‘individuals of lesser means.’ What I mean by that, is we have many citizens who live in our trailer park on N. Maple Rd, our apartment complexes, and other low-income communities. With that being said, those citizens do not have some of the luxuries that other citizens in our community have. I am one of those citizens.
I live in the trailer park. I am not able to afford a house that many of you have the luxury of having, therefore, during severe storms, this is my safe haven. I come here knowing that I have someone in the dispatch area who can monitor the storm, monitor the individuals coming in and out, and provide anything that is needed. Currently our City Hall/Police Station operates as a warming center during the winter months. We also operate as a shelter during severe weather, including tornadoes. In this instance, these citizens have a SAFE, warm, and SECURE place to go when they cannot feasibly be at their home. Our recent ice storm, and one week later our snow storm, proved the importance of this. Multiple citizens used our lobby after hours to warm up, to charge their phones, get water, etc.
In the year that I have worked here as a midnight shift dispatcher, I can tell you just what having this station open at night has meant to our citizens. I have had individuals come to the station with broken vehicles that are waiting for a ride. They have come HERE. A SAFE location for them to wait, instead of waiting out on the street. Not only that, but I have been here when individuals have needed to do child custody exchanges. Our citizens know that this is a place that is monitored, and they know they can safely exchange their child to the other parent, and if something arises, they have someone here that can assist them.
We have also had officers who have made traffic stops for traffic violations and determined that the driver cannot legally drive and were illegal immigrants that are trying to commute to their destination. Most of the time these individuals don’t speak any English. Not only do they have the fear of being stopped, but the fear of not understanding what is happening. In this instance these individuals have been brought to the police station not in custody where they can again, wait SAFELY for a ride. That means a lot to those individuals, as well as to the family that is coming to pick them up.
A police department is a safe haven. Our citizens understand that and know that they can come here in the worst moments of their lives. These are citizens who are in the middle of a domestic violence situation, citizens who have been raped, stalked, or followed. In some cases, these citizens may have their children with them, especially in a case of domestic violence. While officers are with the parents, dispatch can stay with the children and keep them occupied and busy, so they aren’t scared. We have a cabinet dedicated to toys, coloring books, and other supplies for these children. We also have care backpacks in the back in the instance in which they need a change of clothes. Would you prefer these individuals talk to a speaker box outside the door?
We had a case where a female came into the station as a stalking victim being chased. In this case, the officers saw the suspect drive through the parking lot and were able to make contact. Without having a 24/7 dispatch center that victim would not have had somewhere safe to go, and the situation could have gone from bad to worse very quickly.
A service we also provide to the community is the Red Barrel. This is in the hopes that citizens will drop off unused medications. This keeps the medicines off the streets, and out of the hands of children or individuals who may abuse the medicines. Without having a dispatcher to monitor the medication drop off, that service will no longer exist to the community.
Currently whenever we have a business alarm called in, officers are immediately dispatched and arrive within minutes, especially in cases where we don’t typically see alarms that often. With bringing in new cannabis operations, citizens have expressed concerns to council about a rise in crime. We can have a quick and immediate response. That may not be the case with county dispatch. They may have higher priority calls, such as a shooting, an overdose, domestic, etc. This kind of call, a burglary alarm, it is going to be held until all high priority calls are addressed.
Customer service is outlined in our Strategic Plan for the City of Saline. All our citizens, including you, our council members have become accustomed to being treated with such a level. You have become accustomed to vehicle unlocks, extra patrols where speeding occurs, and prompt response time. If Saline Dispatchers get transitioned to Washtenaw County Metro Dispatch, this level of customer service will be lost. On 01/22, I received a phone call for a York Township Address at 0035, for a suspicious vehicle that was sitting outside the caller’s home; after transferring to metro, it took them 25 + minutes to dispatch out, and on dispatch they advised the vehicle had been there for over 40 minutes. This example alone, is one of the things I mean when I say customer service will be lost. The prompt response will be lost. This is not an isolated incident. Ask any officer or dispatcher and you will hear that calls holding, is a normal occurrence.
Having a dispatcher in the station 24/7 also means that there is someone here to monitor and dispatch city services directly. During the event of extreme precipitation, we can make contact and request that the dam be opened or closed. If we eliminate dispatch, there will be no one here to monitor that alarm. That also means that any DPW request for snow removal, water main breaks, or any other after hour issue, will not have someone here to take the request. Dispatch takes all the after-hour concerns and contacts DPW to make sure these situations are taken care of and addressed. The plowed and salted roads that happen in the middle of the night, will be something of the past if there is not a dispatcher here to make that request. All issues will be handled during your 8-4 business hours. County will contact DPW but no follow up or coordinated responses will be made.
When council met with Washtenaw County Metro Dispatch, they advised you that you “will not get the level of service that you are used too.” If you are fine with the level of service decreasing, if you are fine with calls being held, or having your call be one of the services that Washtenaw County Metro Dispatch does not respond to, then go ahead and transition your dispatchers there. If you want to continue to have a level of customer service that is higher than most, customer service that other dispatch centers and citizens wish they had, then you should really consider keeping your dispatchers where they are. WCSO said they are an emergency operations center. Saline is a customer service, community oriented, police dispatch that prides itself on helping all citizens with any problem they may need help with.
Public Safety is a priority in any city. We are here for people on their worst day imaginable. I pray that if you choose to eliminate our positions, that you will never know the fear of calling for help and being told that an officer will respond as soon as possible, but there are higher priority calls ahead of you. I pray that you never have to experience the terror and uncertainty of not having a dispatcher to stay on the line with you as someone is attempting to break into your home, and wondering where officers are, or to hear a prompt that says “press 1 and then be put on hold.”
To most, I am “just a dispatcher, just the person answering the phone when it rings,” but to many I am the lifeline when their life is falling apart in the moment. I am the first person to help them in their hour of need. I am the person staying on the line telling you that officers are on the way, that officers are arrival. I am to you, just the person answering the phone, but to those in crisis, I am a lifeline.
For these and so many reasons, I encourage all citizens to come to the town hall forum on March 14th at 6pm in City Hall and tell council why they should keep dispatch.
I would like to add more information regarding the dispatchers, thank you John for posting. During my career with Dictaphone Corporation, now retired for 30 years, part of my responsibilities was planning, installing and servicing 911 systems. I could or should have wrote a book. Dispatchers are a very important part of a 911 system, especially for the safety of the officers. While working, I was asked many times to merge systems and various agencies, i was NEVER in favor of these plans. WE NEED LOCAL DISPATCHERS IN LOCAL POLICE AGENCIES. Many agencies took my advice due to my past experience, some did not. Most that merged I was back a few years later putting it back to local control. Lives are more important than saving a few dollars.
David L Rittinger