GULFPORT — Police dispatchers have been sitting on the edge of their seats for two years, wondering if they are going to keep their jobs or lose them to Pinellas County.
That's how long the city has been mulling whether it should continue to pay $300,000 a year to keep its dispatchers or pay the county $100,000 a year to do the job.
The $300,000 includes pay for four full-time and one part-time officer, overtime pay, training and software maintenance, said police Chief Robert Vincent.
"The employees are frustrated," Vincent said. "The city has flip-flopped four or five times."
The City Council will take up the issue again Tuesday when City Manager Jim O'Reilly presents his revised budget at the 7 p.m. council meeting.
"Council has to decide what's more important: cost or level of service," O'Reilly said.
Vincent said it stands to reason that calls will be answered more promptly if dispatching stays in-house instead of being mixed in with all the other cities the sheriff covers. The Sheriff's Office provides service to Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Oldsmar, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, Seminole, South Pasadena and unincorporated areas.
It provides dispatch-only services for Belleair, Indian Shores, Redington Shores and Kenneth City.
"We are larger by far than any of those cities," Vincent said.
When you call the Sheriff's Office, you talk to a call-taker. The eight call-takers then relay the information to six dispatchers, Vincent said.
"It's not broken down by location. You could have a robbery in Palm Harbor, a crash with injuries in Oldsmar, a man with a gun in Tierra Verde and the theft of a bike in Gulfport. All these incidents show up on a dispatcher's screen, and they prioritize them," Vincent said.
Response will be slowed if the Sheriff's Office deems an incident low priority or has to figure out a location before dispatching an officer, Vincent said.
"If someone calls our dispatchers and says they saw a guy lying in the roadway, we know exactly where it is. We don't have to figure it out before we dispatch an officer," the chief said.
There are 30 sworn officers and eight civilians in the Gulfport Police Department.
"When you start taking away jobs in the Police Department, you take away its efficiency," said Michael Krohn, attorney for and executive director of the police union, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.
"We have enough police officers to need our own dispatchers," Krohn said. "When you start cutting corners, don't cut anything tied to public safety.
"Once they get the dispatchers, will they go after the officers? Then go after the Fire Department?" Krohn asked.