The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 8, 2013

Joplin City Council authorizes discussions on 911 proposal

By Debby Woodin

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin’s police chief was given the go-ahead on Monday by the Joplin City Council to pursue discussions about merging Joplin and Jasper County 911 dispatching services.

Chief Lane Roberts told the City Council that he is proposing the merger because he believes that consolidating dispatching services would save the taxpayers money, make it safer for emergency services workers and residents and result in better service.

He said a number of incidents, as well as coordinating response to the Joplin tornado in 2011, illustrated the need for a streamlined dispatching service where all of the agencies that serve the county and cities could communicate. Currently, the agencies have different radio systems that do not permit them to talk to each other, Additionally, there is no backup system to provide dispatch services if the 911 center sustained some kind of outage. That backup could be provided by retaining Joplin’s dispatching system, the chief said.

Roberts said one incident that best illustrates the shortcomings of the current dispatch system happened at a standoff where an armed man had barricaded himself in a house. Because the city and county have different radio systems that do not communicate with each other, two Joplin police officers and two Jasper County deputies responded to the call, but none knew the others were there when the man stepped out of the house and shot himself.

Under his proposal, the 911 system would contract with Joplin for dispatching. The dispatching would take place at the 911 center near Carthage with Joplin’s kept as a redundant system. The service would retain it’s current management by two administrators. A proposed seven-member executive committee comprised of police chiefs, the sheriff and two at-large members would set policy and procedure. A contract between the entities would spell out duties and authority.

In response to council questions, Roberts said it would take eight to 12 months to set up the agreements and accomplish a merger if the other entities  approve of the proposal. He did not believe there would be much, if any, cost to the city and the current number of jobs in the city’s dispatch ranks would likely be retained, though he said he would not promise that there would be no change in the number employed.