By Sue Botos
The addition of nine part-time dispatchers, a patrol officer, a feasibility study for the upgrading of police department facilities, and gearing up for the 2016 Republican National Convention will top the New Year’s resolution list of police Chief Kelly Stillman.
During Friday’s 2016 city budget hearing, Stillman submitted a proposal to Mayor Pam Bobst and City Council for the hiring of professional dispatchers to provide 24-hour service to the department. Based on a maximum hourly rate of $15 to $19, he requested an allowance of $153,738 to $195,000 to cover the cost of the program.
The 2016 municipal budget received the second of three required readings on Nov. 23. A general fund appropriation of $22,017,127 is expected to be approved by council on Monday and reflects an increase from $21,272,484 in 2015.
“The mayor and I have had numerous discussions about this over the years,” said Stillman, adding that with the addition of dispatchers to the Rocky River department, Fairview Park would be the only Westshore city without dispatchers. He said Fairview was “welcome to come on board” to collaborate with Rocky River.
Currently, Stillman said sergeants and lieutenants handle dispatch duties. “That leaves no supervisors on the road and each call should have a supervisor,” Stillman stated. Area fire departments and EMS dispatch through WestCom (Westshore Central Dispatch Center), but a similar collaboration does not exist for law enforcement.
“The Westshore communities are an island. Everyone else seems to be going to regionalization,” stated Stillman. He said that while he is in favor of collaboration, he and other police chiefs prefer to handle dispatch in house.
Stillman emphasized that the dispatchers will be trained professionals, each working 25 hours weekly. “These are highly trained people. The time is now. I can’t wait any longer,” said Stillman.
Bobst added that the move makes sense and will not preclude the city from participating in any future collaborative efforts.
She further explained that the bulk of calls received by police come through the non-emergency number, which would be answered by dispatchers. Emergency 911 calls are routed through a regional center.
While Stillman said that implementation of dispatchers will not “happen overnight, anything is better than what we have now.” He added that it may take several months to a year for the service to be fully functional.
In addition, Bobst announced that in 2016 a feasibility study will be conducted regarding upgrades to the police and fire stations. “Midway through 2016, we will be hearing more, and we will be looking for grants,” Bobst stated.
Stillman added that he has received several citations from the state for inadequate jail facilities. “One day, they could come in and say we can’t house prisoners. It would be a nightmare to transport them (elsewhere),” he said. In addition, Stillman said there is no room to store evidence and no locker for the additional officer needed to get the force up to its full complement of 33.
Stillman additionally requested the purchase of 15 body cameras and software at a cost of $15,000. “This is a win-win for us and for the public. We are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and the public,” Stillman said. He explained that the new cameras will be “seamlessly integrated” with the patrol car software, and will be activated when an officer turns on a cruiser’s lights and siren. The wireless system also allows for immediate downloading of video to the station’s server when an officer pulls into the station.
Looking ahead to the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC), Stillman said he anticipates 1,385 hours of additional overtime to cover officers assigned to the event and those manning the department between July 16 and 22. “All vacations were cancelled for July,” Stillman reported. While Stillman predicted an overtime cost of $261,000 for the convention and related activities, he said $86,700 of that will be reimbursed by the RNC.