Dispatch of the Lacombe Police Service (LPS) will be returning to the City in 2017.
At their regular council meeting on Dec. 14th, Lacombe City councillors approved the move of LPS dispatch from the RCMP in Red Deer back to the City.
City of Lacombe CAO Norma MacQuarrie provided council with a brief background of the history of police dispatch in Lacombe.
“Previously LPS did provide local dispatch,” she detailed.
In 2007, 911 services were restructured by the province and Lacombe 911 was transferred to the City of Red Deer. In 2009, further changes were made and fire and EMS dispatch were also transferred to Red Deer. At this time, the City entered into a contract with the RCMP to receive and dispatch LPS calls.
“The primary rationale for the City and LPS in giving up 911 and contracting out the dispatch function was the difficulty in finding and retaining staff,” said MacQuarrie.
Other problems arose with staff burnout, as a 911 call centre dispatcher must remain on the line with the caller until emergency services arrive.
“The largest concern driving the desire to implement local dispatch is public safety, given the lengthy response time currently experienced under the RCMP contract,” said Lacombe Police Commission Chair Jonathan Jacobson. “Over the past three years, the single greatest complaint received about LPS is the length of time it takes to answer and respond to citizens who call to report a crime or incident.”
With the return of local dispatch, the City and LPS hope these problems will be resolved as dispatch will be police only, excluding 911 services, fire and EMS, which will remain dispatched out of Red Deer.
Currently LPS is reaching a 13 plus minute average for response times. LPS Chief Murray said with dispatch being localized, he believes LPS can move to a seven minute response target for priority one calls (crime in progress, threats to life) and an eight minute response target for priority two calls (crime in progress, threat to property).
“So that represents a vast improvement from the safety perspective in terms of the response time,” said MacQuarrie. “There are two significant differences between the former LPS dispatch and the current proposal. There is no 911 call evaluating or transferring responsibility and there is no fire or EMS dispatching. These were the most significant contributing factors to staffing problems with the former dispatch.”
“We have really appreciated the service provided to us by the RCMP for our dispatch needs over the past eight years and we value our ongoing relationship with all our neighbouring RCMP detachments,” said Murray. “This decision in no way reflects the services provided to us by the RCMP, rather the changing needs of a growing community.”
Chief Murray estimated that with switching over to in-house dispatch, approximately $1,018,726 will be saved over five years. The need to build a radio tower at the new police facility is also eliminated if the City switches over to the new provincial system called AFRRCS.
“Operationally, the move to local dispatch will also improve overall police service by reducing the amount of clerical type work required of officers after hours,” said Chief Murray. “Specific areas where the night and weekend dispatcher can provide support to members will be in the areas of data entry, warrant confirmations, document preparation and other clerical tasks. Currently, each of these tasks requires a police officer to return to the station to complete. Having dispatch support would allow officers to remain more active on the street performing police functions.”
Councillor Peter Bouwsema, who sits on the Lacombe Police Commission, said he is in full support of the change over to localized dispatch.
“This is definitely going to make a major improvement,” he said. “It is expected to cut the response time in just over half, which is quite substantial. It could mean the difference between life or death.
“It is a bonus for us to bring the dispatch of our police department back to Lacombe.”
The cost to the City to bring local dispatch back includes $250,000 for facilitation and a computer aided dispatch system and $58,000 for the conversion of LPS radio system to the new provincial system. These items were partially funded through the 2015 surplus along with being included in the 2016 capital budget.
The City has scheduled local dispatch to go live on Jan. 1st, 2017.