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Sheriff Addresses Dispatch Concerns

You may have recently read articles about the Sheriff’s Office dispatchers. As your sheriff, I would like to shed a little more light on this topic. There are those in positions of authority within the county government, some elected, some appointed, who have an agenda. I believe this agenda is to move the dispatchers from under the Office of the Sheriff to a new (yet to be created) Communications Department overseen by a $50,000.00 a year (plus all the benefits) appointed administrator. Because of the supervisory/administrative duties of the proposed administrator in the proposed Communications Department, this person could not be used as a dispatcher unless there were no other options (…to be used only in an emergency when no other dispatchers are available). Can we afford this?

These people with this agenda would have you believe the dispatchers in the Sheriff’s Office are poorly supervised and not well trained. This is not true. It is my belief that in an effort to “build their case”, these people have made it a point to scrutinize calls concerning fire department and EMS call-outs. They have stated, according to the local papers, that our dispatchers have been told not to use certain equipment which enables efficient paging, among other such allegations. I am here to assure you, the Washington County residents, our dispatchers provide an excellent service. I am very proud of our dispatchers and am amazed at the level of dedication they have displayed.

Dispatching is a very stressful job and these county officials have increased the dispatchers’ levels of stress, unduly, because of the recent scrutinization and subsequent publicity. Moreover, and as an example of stressors, recently a dispatcher correctly followed protocol when she dispatched both fire and EMS, along with law enforcement, for a traffic crash in which air bags were deployed. She was subsequently criticized for having done so and told that changes needed to be made to this established protocol. She was advised to “think outside the box” by the fire chief/county board member/911 board chairman/communications committee chairman. In my opinion, if she had not followed protocol, this would have been another criticism.

Have mistakes been made? Yes. We all are human; no one is perfect. Have we taken steps to correct mistakes so they are not reoccurring? Yes. Do we fully train and supervise our dispatchers? Yes.

A concern of a supposed lack of consistency with our dispatchers’ procedures, as sheriffs change, has been raised. This in my opinion is unfounded because the certifications and standards for dispatchers do not change (with the changing of the guard, so to speak). What does change are protocols initiated and coordinated with the various law enforcement agencies, ambulances services, and fire departments. We have worked with these entities in trying to establish optimum protocols. I have been criticized for not having been at each and every committee meeting where these issues are discussed. In the case of the 911 committee meetings, I have recently been represented by the dispatcher supervisor who can and does contribute to these conversations with a more “hands-on” approach.

As you may know or can imagine, any entity, whether public or private, has the potential for internal problems. In our case, reported “dispatcher problems or mistakes”, if founded, have been rectified or corrected. Because of constant changes within the realm of dispatching, on-going in-service training is always occurring. Our dispatchers are properly trained and meet the standards set forth by the various entities under which they operate or with whom they are accredited. Please be assured we are making every effort to effectively supervise our dispatchers.

Since taking office, I have been met with much adversity from within the county government and have attempted to avoid “airing out” issues in the public eye. Many problems or questions concerning our dispatchers, or other topics within this office, could (and should) be addressed with a simple phone call. We can only hope for improved communication and cooperation through a spirit of professional public service.

I fully support, and sincerely thank, my staff of dispatchers who are dedicated to this vital function of the emergency services provided by the Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, and in summary, I do not believe the creation of a separate communications department is in the best interest of our county.

Sheriff Len Campbell

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