DISPATCHED: Saline City Council Votes to Outsource Police Dispatch Services


One by one, they walked up to the podium at Saline City Hall and told city council not to outsource Saline Police Department dispatch jobs to the county. They were dispatchers, police officers, retired police officers, and other residents of Saline and nearby communities.

One dispatcher called it union busting.

One former cop told council that dispatchers know our city, its residents and its police than county dispatchers working out of a Hogback Road bunker.

One resident said they feared delays in emergency response if the service is outsourced.

One dispatcher outlined all of the non-emergency work that might disappear if local dispatch disappeared.

A former officer said eliminating dispatch could jeopardize officer safety.

Another resident, shot Aug. 3 in one of the city’s most violent moments, pleaded with council to preserve local dispatch to keep the town safe.

In the end, though, council elected to heed the advice of its experts - City Manager Colleen O’Toole and Police Chief Marlene Radzik. 

After hearing 30 minutes of public comment, a presentation from O’Toole, Radzik and Treasurer Elle Cole, and then questioning city staff for another half hour, city council voted 6-1 to approve a 15-month contract to outsource dispatch services to Washtenaw Metro Dispatch for $136,975.

Councillor Jim Dell’Orco was the lone dissenter. Dell’Orco said he would have been more comfortable with approving the contract if a new clerical position created to work the SPD’s front desk was unionized.

Six SPD dispatchers will lose their jobs.

City staff has proposed plans to outsource the dispatch to other agencies twice since 2011. Both times, the measures failed at city council. Since that time, other police agencies like Milan and Pittsfield have outsourced the work.

While Councillor Dean Girbach said he’s been continuing to study the issue since 2015, Mayor Brian Marl said this newest proposal came as a result of city council’s fund balance policy. When the city’s general fund balance - or rainy day fund - dips below 15 percent, council directs city staff to begin looking for ways to cut funding or generate revenues and replenish the fund.

O’Toole explained the city examined all kinds of line items and determined that outsourcing dispatch services was one thing the city could do to save money without a reduction in services.

O’Toole estimated the move will save the city $170,000 annually.

Chief Radzik suggested that outsourcing the jobs to Metro Dispatch could enhance public and officer safety. She pointed to the Aug. 3 shooting of Amber Jo Thomas at the former UAW Hall. She said that when situations like that happen, the Saline Police Department has one dispatcher who has to handle multiple calls, communicate with police, call for medical help and coordinate with other agencies. Radzik said the Saline dispatcher did a remarkable job that day. But she said Metro Dispatch can have a team of dispatchers working when low-frequency high-risk events take place. In addition, Radzik said officer safety will be enhanced because more officers will be on the radio frequency.

“When you look at our neighboring jurisdictions, they are all on Metro Dispatch, so there’s that capability to hear what your officers are doing and be able to respond before a dispatcher has to call another jurisdiction for backup,” Radzik said.

The Washtenaw County Sheriff, Pittsfield and Milan police are on Metro Dispatch.

As it stands, all current 9-1-1 calls made on mobile phones go to Metro Dispatch, which then dispatches the calls to Saline. So, at some level, concerns about response time seem unwarranted.

Even so, there are concerns.

SPD Dispatcher Kelly West said Saline’s dispatchers are dedicated to the calls of Saline residents.

“When we receive calls, they are immediately our priority, regardless of the type of call. Every call matters. We have the ability to get them out without having to wait for emergency traffic to be lifted because we are one-on-one with our officers,” West said.

Retired Saline Police Department officer Dave Ringe said he was covering for an SPD dispatcher on break when Metro Dispatch called Saline to try to determine whether an address was in the city or township.

“My hats off to the folks at central dispatch. They do a bang-up job. But with the amount of calls they take, they just don’t know the city like our dispatchers do,” Ringe said. “Please do not eliminate dispatch. Not only for the citizen safety but for the safety of every officer out there in Saline.”

Right now, the city has a dispatch desk that’s staffed 24-7. That will no longer be the case. Instead, the city will have some kind of community relations representative who will interface with the public during business hours. But after hours, the desk will not be staffed. Anyone needing help will need to call 9-1-1 or the Metro Dispatch non-emergency line.

Veteran SPD officer Jennifer Schoeniech offered a couple of stories highlighting the way having a staffed local dispatch center enhances public safety. She recounted the story of a mother who finally decided to report abuse at the hands of her husband after three years. The township resident had just been assaulted and was afraid he was going to come back. She went to the SPD. The county dispatcher said it would 30 minutes before a Trooper could talk to the woman. The woman and her two-year-old child were allowed and sat in the SPD’s conference room. The dispatcher gave Officer Schoeniech a box full of crayons, coloring books, water and crackers to give to the child. 30 minutes later, the state trooper had still not shown up because he was sent to a different call. After 90 minutes, the victim wanted to leave, but the dispatcher convinced her to stay. At last, the trooper arrived to conduct the interview. During the hour-long interview, the dispatcher played cartoons for the child. Based on the interview, the trooper arrested the husband and the woman and her child were able to return home.

“The (county dispatchers) don’t work with us like we work with our dispatchers,” Schoeniech said. “I also wonder, if we didn’t have someone sitting there after hours, would these people who came to the station and reported these incidents have picked up a phone and waited outside for someone to respond? It’s something to think about.”

Richard Edwards, the victim who survived the Aug. 3 shooting, implored council to preserve the dispatch desk. After he was shot, Edwards called the Saline Police Department’s non-emergency line and was connected straight to Saline dispatch. Immediately after the shooting, Edwards ran to his truck and called the department and talked to dispatcher Lisa Bain.

“After the conversation was over, there were all kinds of police officers there. I found out later that from the time I called to the time they apprehended (suspect Barry Garza), it was six or seven minutes. If I had called 9-1-1, they said it would have taken a lot longer,” Edwards said.

Not a single person from the audience spoke in favor of outsourcing the service.

City Manager O’Toole said the city’s dispatchers would be encouraged to seek employment at Metro Dispatch, but that the city would try to retain staff until Metro Dispatch begins serving Salne in April. O’Toole said the city could offer incentives to keep dispatchers on the job until Metro Dispatch takes over.

Mayor Marl said the city’s dispatchers have served the city well, but that times change.

“Our local dispatch service is something special and it is something unique. But it is indeed correct that times change and municipal services have to evolve. We know that many communities in our vicinity have made a successful transition to consolidated dispatch,” Marl said. “I think that we can still provide the citizens, business owners, property owners of Saline an adequate and sufficient level of service and meet their current and future needs, while also improving in some aspects.”

While the decision to outsource dispatch was debated, Marl said now was the time for unity.

“This topic has been fiercely fought over and, of course, hotly debated. I understand that if Saline dispatch is consolidated into Washtenaw County Metro, many in the community will be disappointed. But that disappointment must be overcome by a unity of purpose,” Marl said. “All of us in the Saline community, but especially those of us in city government must work to ensure there is a smooth and successful transition to efficiently serve our residents and business owners.”

The dispatchers who’ll be looking for new work were indeed disappointed.

“It seemed like their mind was made up before they listened,” said Kelly West. “Every single person who spoke was in favor of saving local dispatch.”

The cost-cutting measures aren’t done. Councillor Girbach twice mentioned Saline Recreation. Following the meeting, Mayor Marl said the Rec Center will be maintained, but that leadership positions in the department may be consolidated as longtime Director Carla Scruggs is set to retire in October.

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Yet again the Saline City Council ignores its citizens.  City Council is completely out of control.  Public opinion is worthless.  Attending council meetings is a waste of time. Elected officials are arrogant and have no regard to their constituents concerns.  We need change.  
SPD…city leaders just threw you under the bus…again  and your new chief ?  

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I Was reading the article in sun times the other day about the brown water issue discussion at the coffee thing; I recall the article saying the The water department head was “responding to calls all day long and still had a long list of calls to make”. I appreciate that he’s taking the time to do this but that’s not what we want him doing all day; he has many other tasks that need attention and making phone calls to confused and frustrated citizens is not one we want him doing, at least all day long. I know this is a different story but related to city staff none the less. 

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Next thing you know, they will decide to farm out the police and fire departments to save more money!
First we lost our hospital, & now dispatch. We pay some of the highest taxes in the area & we can't protect our residents or Police officers, that's outrageous! Sorry Saline!

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