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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Monett dispatchers cleaning up warrant backlogs for Pierce City, Verona

Friday, April 5, 2013

Monett dispatchers have become even busier, taking on clerical work for police departments receiving dispatching service. Details were shared at the April quarterly meeting of the Monett 911 Advisory Board, held on April 3 at the Monett Justice Center.

Communications director Bonnie Witt-Schulte reported that Monett crews have begun updating the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES) records for municipal courts in Pierce City and Verona. Monett provides dispatching services for both police departments.

Witt-Schulte and Karen Brown, 911 communications supervisor, explained that the records maintained by both departments had serious shortcomings. Under municipal court standards, all warrants issued by municipal courts for ordinance violations and misdemeanors should be entered into the MULES system within three days.

In reviewing warrant packages submitted by the cities, Brown estimated as much as 30 percent of warrants were not recorded, some dating back to 2002.

The Lawrence County Sheriff's Department is known to have a very significant backlog, and has been known to enter new warrants onto previous entries for the same individuals. Brown found record keeping also lagged in reporting warrants had been executed, leaving open the possibility that someone could be arrested for a ticket already paid.

The county is responsible for entering felony cases into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which officers in other states can access. MULES records are available to any Missouri officers and should provide a complete criminal background history on subjects.

Witt-Schulte said Brown had untangled all of the warrant backlogs. The Pierce City and Verona police were very pleased with the service Monett provided. Since taking over dispatching for Verona in December, 2012, 35 active warrants for Verona have been entered into the MULES system.

Call summaries

The Monett 911 Communications Center responded to 3,800 911 calls in 2012, 85 percent stemming from Monett incidents. Barry and Lawrence counties each fielded about 200 calls, or 5 percent of the calls received. Three calls also came in for Newton County.

Calls fielded by the dispatching center not relating to 911 totaled 24,789 for the year. Of those, 7,244 were calls to Monett officers, 2,425 were for traffic stops, 1,627 stemmed from medical calls, 1,511 referred to walk-in traffic at the Justice Center, 1,420 were to provide extra patrols such as for funerals, and 1,248 related to animal control issues. All other categories involved less than 800 calls.

Financial reports

During 2012, the last of the reserve funds accumulated from the surcharge on landlines was spent on 911 operations. City Administrator Dennis Pyle said the remaining surcharge for Lawrence County customers in the 235 and 476 exchanges, plus dispatching contracts with cities and the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District, generates $44,900 a year.

Costs in 2012 totaled $99,980, leaving an operating deficit of $55,080. In addition, Pyle said the city spent $25,000 to add a rural county map to the computer database. The map matched addresses and locations to provide better directions. Witt-Schulte said the addition had especially helped dispatching for ambulance and firefighters.

Attempts on the state level to remedy the lack of funding for 911 services from cell phone users does not appear to be gaining much traction at the Missouri General Assembly. Witt-Schulte said House Bill 653, seeking to establish a $1.50 fee for any device that could contact 911, may not get out of committee.

Supporters of 911 service appeared ready to withdraw part of the bill. A modified version would give counties the authority to seek 911 funding from cell phone users.

Senate Bill 271 had support in mandating additional training for dispatchers. Advice given by a dispatcher to a homeowner during a break-in in Kansas City resulted in a shooting, and additional training could limit such occurrences.

Witt-Schulte said another bill pushed to establish one 911 center for an entire congressional district.

County connections

A serious discussion had recently been held between city representatives and the Lawrence County Commission over the possibility of Monett taking on the county's 911 service on a contract basis. Witt-Schulte said "a definite dialogue" took place.

Monett could handle Lawrence County's dispatching with three more dispatchers. Witt-Schulte said the additional staff would enable her to have two dispatchers on duty at all times and three on weekends.

The board agreed to have Pyle and Witt-Schulte compile solid proposal for the Lawrence County Commission to consider, including a cost breakdown and price projections. They liked the idea of a three-year contract to offer a window for demonstrating performance and renewal options.

Some new wrinkles developed in the center's ability to respond to Barry County calls. Witt-Schulte said Barry County 911 joined a new state interoperability network that uses digital radios. The different technology created some communication hurdles. Only one backup radio in Monett communicates with other digital radios.

Witt-Schulte said Monett planned to seek grant money to remedy the state-imposed problem. Upgrading the dispatching console would cost $10,000, radios would cost $5,000 and mobile radios would cost $4,000. She was optimistic that a grant would cover the expense.

The recent manhunt in Monett underscored the need for a private phone line in the dispatch center that officers could call. Witt-Schulte said so many calls came in that dispatchers had difficulty getting an outside line and had to use their own cell phones at times.

Passage of the Pierce City Fire District on April 2 would trigger changes in dispatching procedures in the coming months. Witt-Schulte expected firefighters would use their repeater for most of the radio traffic.

Fire Chief Tom Jones submitted his resignation from the board since he was elected as a northern county representative to the Barry County 911 board. Pyle said holding a position on both bodies would represent a conflict of interest. A fire department representative would still attend meetings as an ex officio non-voting member.

The board set June 19 for its next meeting.

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