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Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County 911 centers merge calls

LARGO — No glitches have been reported as the Pinellas Sheriff's Office and the county's 911 call center merged this week, in what Sheriff Bob Gualtieri calls a monumental improvement in public safety service.

Before the switch, residents living within areas serviced by the Sheriff's Office who called 911 for police help would be connected to an operator, who would transfer their call to a Sheriff's Office dispatcher. The two-step process delayed response times.

But that changed Wednesday morning when the county's 911 call center and Sheriff's Office dispatchers combined services after their move into the new public safety campus on Ulmerton Road.

Residents needing Sheriff's Office help will now be assisted directly by the first call taker.

"The level of service went from poor to extremely efficient in literally the flip of the switch," Gualtieri said. "You've got people in the same room that are all communicating with each other and get you all the help you need. It's vital, it's crucial, it's crazy not to have consolidated emergency communications."

Before the switch, many 911 callers often hung up when placed on hold. Dispatchers then tried to call residents back while police responded without knowing what was going on.

The new center is comprised of a 911 county staff of about 90 employees, as well as roughly 30 Sheriff's Office dispatchers.

Right now, only the 14 cities contracting with the Sheriff's Office, as well as five others that contract for dispatch services, will benefit from the switch. Call takers will continue to transfer police calls for residents in Largo, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park, and St. Petersburg.

For St. Petersburg, it came down to the new county facility's size. There's not enough room for the city's nearly 90 dispatch employees.

Instead, the St. Petersburg Police Department's new campus, scheduled to be built within the next two or three years, will serve as a secondary 911 call center in case of an emergency at the new county building.

"We will be the backup for them," said Mike McDonald, St. Petersburg's assistant director of the administrative services bureau, "and they will be the backup for us."

Chuck Freeman, the county's 911 director, said he hopes other police agencies will merge with the new center.

"For the most part, they want to ... let this play out and see how the consolidation goes," Freeman said. "Sometime at a future date, they may consider it."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County 911 centers merge calls 07/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:15pm]
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