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Column: Combined dispatch will meet expectations

11:44 AM, Jul. 19, 2013  |  Comments
Patricia A. Baker
Patricia A. Baker
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This year, my office has generated a lot of warrants for unpaid fines. And just like any legal document in the criminal justice system, such as a warrant, criminal complaint or summons, it is like a ripple in a pond, affecting other departments as it works its way out of the courthouse and into other agencies.

As my office has attempted to recoup some of the unpaid fines from 2007, 2008 and the years forward, our actions have affected the Sheriff's Office Communications Center or "dispatch."

In an effort to optimize working relationships, the manager there, Denise Schultz, and I had this idea to "walk a mile" in one another's shoes. Members of my staff in the Clerk of Courts office would spend a few hours there to see how things work at one end of the process, and members of her staff would spend a few hours in court, to see the other end of the process.

My time to walk in the shoes of a dispatcher came on a spring evening that the Sheriff's Special Response Team was sent to a home where a despondent person was holed up with a weapon and no will to live.

The word dispatch means to send off, or away, with speed; to transact or dispose of a matter promptly or speedily, to hasten; be quick. The definition certainly fit what I observed this particular evening.

When I walked into dispatch about 9 p.m., Susan, a 20-year veteran of the office, said it was going to be an interesting night for me due to the SRT call.

Susan already had talked with the person's neighbor, a relative, a landlord, several sheriff's deputies, local firefighters, EMT workers in an ambulance and a few others. I was impressed at the number of units that had been sent to the home. She had six large video monitors, two keyboards, 10 different software screens and two telephone lines in front of her.

Another dispatcher, Heather, was also on duty that evening. Heather is a six-year vet of the office. She was helping to coordinate all of the units that had been sent to the location, along with taking the regular variety of calls they receive on a normal weekend night: someone following a distracted driver, an abandoned vehicle on the road, a disturbance at a bar and so forth.

A call came in from a family member of a domestic abuse incident that had taken place the night before. The caller asked where the small child that had been placed with a relative the night before was now, as her parent had been taken to the hospital.

Susan was sure to find out. She placed calls to two hospitals, three other sheriff's offices and eventually back to the relative. All was fine, the child was where she was supposed to be.

When I was getting ready to leave the dispatch office that night, a call came in that the SRT incident had an unfortunate ending. Susan and Heather had to contact every unit that had been sent out and release them from their locations. I was amazed they even could remember all the units that they had dispatched in such a frenzy hours earlier. Not only did they remember all of units, and the officers, they contacted each and relayed the unfortunate outcome with respect and dignity.

As the evening drew to a close for me (I left at midnight) I began to think about the upcoming merger of the Portage County Sheriff's Dispatch and the Stevens Point Police Dispatch. I felt confident that the level of excellent work and dedication by these experienced workers would help make the merger seamless.

The dispatch unit is one of the most critical parts to the county's emergency response system, as the workers relay information seconds after learning it from callers. If so much as one flaw, delay or distraction gets in the process, people's lives are affected. We, as citizens, rely on our county dispatches infrequently, but we anticipate they will work perfectly when we do need them.

The merger now has taken place. I had the good fortune of spending an hour there for a meeting. I saw the new facility, and new employees, but the same "can do" attitude of all involved. Portage County and City of Stevens Point residents should all be confident in the ability of our new combined dispatch center. I know I am.

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