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The Decatur-Grady 911 Committee held a special called meeting Friday morning to discuss issues related to staff problems at the 911 Center and how the shortage of manpower may impact the agencies the 911 system serves.
A memo to committee members and the county administrators of both Decatur and Grady counties dated May 17 and written by 911 Director Tonya Griffin outline her proposed plan to reduce the workload for dispatchers and to reduce the 911 Center’s overtime expenses.
The memo was shared with representatives of the various agencies and many of them had concerns with the proposed plan.
911 Committee Chairman Keith Moye, a Grady County commissioner, called Friday’s meeting in an attempt to hash out the disagreements and come up with a plan of action that could be supported by the agencies served by Decatur-Grady 911.
At the meeting last week, local agencies represented included the Grady County Sheriff’s Office, Grady County Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Grady County Emergency Medical Service, Whigham Police Department, Cairo Police Department and Cairo Fire Department.
Many agencies from Decatur County also had representatives at the meeting.
Chairman Moye said at the last 911 committee meeting they discussed the difficulty Director Griffin was having in adequately manning the 911 Center, but he did not recall approving the plan of action proposed by the director.
“It was my understanding that Wendell (Cofer of the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office) was going to talk it over with the various agencies and bring back recommendations. None of that happened,” Moye said.
Decatur County Commissioner Pete Stephens, who serves on the 911 Committee, disagreed and said that the committee had voted to go to each agency and advise them of the situation and ask them to do what they could to help out.
Cofer said that he had made contact with the various agencies and concerns had been expressed. He said he scheduled a meeting with Director Griffin to evaluate the situation on May 21, but Griffin had canceled the meeting.
Grady County administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, said that angry agency representatives were knocking on his door May 21 upset with the proposed changes. “I assumed what was in the memo was what had been discussed, but as it turns out some of it is and some of it hasn’t been discussed and the committee never agreed to this,” Johnson said.
Daniel Singletary of the Grady County Sheriff’s Office said he was led to believe the 911 Committee had supported the May 17 memo, but that was not the case.
“Giving a deadline and ramming down people’s throat won’t work,” Johnson said.
Griffin said that the 911 service has not been supported in the past by some agency representatives that have served on the 911 advisory board.
Johnson said he understood the history and it was his belief the focus should be on addressing the current situation rather than rehashing the past.
Johnson, a former Georgia State Patrol official, told the audience Friday that the issues facing Decatur-Grady 911 are not unique. He also noted that statewide there is a push to make 911 services strictly emergency dispatch center and to no longer handle non-emergency dispatch.
911 Committee member Stephens said that nothing had been done intentionally to hurt or upset the representatives of the various agencies. He said the goal had been to let everyone know the issues regarding staffing and to make changes where possible to aid the limited staff of the 911 Center.
Cairo Police Chief Giovannie Santos said he would be willing to make changes, but “not at the risk of officer safety.”
Chief Santos also said that if the various agencies were going to be forced to set up dispatching for non-emergency calls that would take time to put plans in place and to solicit funding from the governing authorities.
According to Director Griffin, the 911 Center has not been fully staffed since 2008.
Whigham Police Chief Tony Black asked if Griffin conducted exit interviews to determine why dispatchers/operators were leaving. “Is there a common denominator?” he asked.
Director Griffin shared some of her ideas for what could be done to cut back on the workload of dispatchers including not calling 911 for calls involving unlocking cars, planned roadblocks, and exercising radio etiquette.
911 Committee member Chris Dorsey agreed that agencies could schedule in advance road checks, and agencies could handle unlock car calls without involving 911. He also encouraged Griffin to contact the agency heads to let them know when their agency is “messing up.”
During the back and forth, 911 Committee member Stephens suggested one solution may be for Grady County to establish its own 911 service. “Maybe you would have better luck hiring people,” Stephens said.
“That’s not on the table,” Dorsey responded.
Dorsey spoke out in favor of working together and making some necessary changes to make the service more efficient.
Dorsey agreed that agencies could utilize technology better to access case numbers and call times without involving 911 dispatchers.
The idea of hiring dispatchers who would not handle emergency calls, but just the routine non-emergency calls might be an option.
911 Committee member Roslyn Palmer, who also serves on the Bainbridge City Council, agreed that was an option as well as each agency having non-emergency dispatching capabilities as a consideration.
Whigham Police Chief Tony Black said the combined 911 service was sold to chiefs and sheriffs as a way to cut out dispatching and free up money that could be used to hire additional officers. He said the biggest issue with the combined service was a lack of communication between the agencies and Director Griffin.
Director Griffin said her staff does a “hell of a job” and she invited anyone interested to come and spend some time at the 911 center to see what the dispatchers handle in a given day.
All parties agreed to make operational changes as much as possible to reach Griffin’s goal of reducing workload on the 911 Center, without risking officer safety.