While county commissioners question if the 911 center and the sheriff’s dispatch office can be merged, Effingham Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said that section serves a vital and necessary function.
The Georgia Sheriffs Association’s Court Services Division prepared a study of the sheriff’s dispatch section last October, and its conclusions backed Sheriff McDuffie’s assertions. One of the sheriff’s main contentions is the potential loss of access to the Georgia Crime Information Center, or GCIC. Moving the sheriff’s dispatch office to the 911 center on Courthouse Road also means moving access to the GCIC system there as well, Sheriff McDuffie said.
"Which means we have to drive back and forth out there to take warrants and we have to drive back and forth out there to get the warrants," he said. "Then we have to get somebody out there to run the warrants. Or I’ve got to hire somebody to run GCIC in the building. So where have we saved anything?"
The sheriff said anytime someone is arrested on a warrant, that person must be served with an original copy of the warrant.
"If that warrant is out at the landfill, that deputy has to drive from wherever he is, drive to the office, drop that guy off, put him in a holding cell, drive to the 911 center, find the paperwork, get the warrant, drive back up here, and serve the warrant," he said.
That would take a patrol deputy off the road for a minimum of 20 minutes, Sheriff McDuffie said.
County officials found that of 25 counties with populations between 35,000-75,000, 20 had combined systems of 911 and sheriff’s office dispatch. Three did not have a combined system and no information on the remaining two could be obtained.
County Administrator David Crawley said the 911 center meets the GCIC’s security requirements but extra personnel would have to be hired to run the GCIC information.
The county established a 911 emergency dispatch center in 2009, and before that call center was activated, the sheriff’s office handled all emergency calls, including fire and EMS. Sheriff’s dispatchers handle calls for both the sheriff’s office and the Rincon Police Department.
The sheriff’s dispatch has 10 employees, and the section runs 24 hours a day. The ECSO is one of three agencies designated as a GCIC terminal agency, and it is the only one with operators on-duty 24 hours a day.
But because it is not a law enforcement agency, the 911 center has been unable to secure GCIC terminal agency status, according to the study.
"...GCIC rules require the sheriff to have adequate dispatch staff on duty every hour of every day of the year," the study said. "Moreover, the sheriff is justifiably concerned that his deputies would not have vital GCIC information to them, as the diminished staffing would mean no terminal operators would be on duty."
Should the sheriff’s dispatch office move to the 911 center, and if GCIC certification did not exist there, Sheriff McDuffie fears that access to needed GCIC records won’t be available for deputies working at night until 8 a.m. the next day.
The dispatch consoles were purchased with seized drug money and the radios were a donation from the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office, McDuffie said.
"Our dispatch center has not cost the taxpayers a dime, except for salaries," he said. "Granted, there is a cost there. But for 20 years, I worked here where it was all combined. It was a headache. It was a safety issue. You have operators trying to do non-emergency stuff at the same time emergency stuff is going on, when you stick them all together."
The sheriff also said he believes that 911 director Jay Spinks and the 911 center do a great job.
"I’ve talked to several firefighters. I’ve talked to EMS," Sheriff McDuffie said. "Everybody is happy with the way things are going. It’s working. It’s efficient. I know budgets are tight, but why back up now?"