Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Public Safety - Verities, Brainstorming, and Balderdash

The Grand Junction City Council has put off asking citizens for a sales tax increase to fund a new public safety complex until at least next year. This decision illustrates the differences between practical and political expediency, particularly among an electorate that looks upon large public projects like this with a very pragmatic eye.

That action doesn't change the essential truth of the matter; Grand Junction needs new facilities for its Police and Fire Departments, even more so for the 9-1-1 and Dispatch Center that serves every citizen of Mesa County.

I've written at length about this in the past, and I don't see anything in the latest developments that gives me pause about the assertions that I've already made. The current set of circumstances seem to amplify at least two of the talking points I've identified previously.

The recent announcement of a joint graffiti abatement program between the GJPD and MCSO again raises the question of additional Regionalization and Consolidation efforts that could reduce operating costs by combining additional components of these two separate and distinct agencies.

In an area laid out as the Grand Valley is, why must there be four separate law enforcement agencies?

Why shouldn't there be a single metropolitan police force for the entire valley, or the county for that matter?

What are the practical barriers? The political obstacles?

I've also written about the design and location of a new 9-1-1 Communication Center, which deservedly appears to be at the top of the priority list of facilities needed. One idea that I put forth at that time was the location of a new 9-1-1 center apart from the proposed public safety complex, due mostly to the location of the complex in the center of an urban core area, and the hazard profile associated with such a location.

Why can't the 9-1-1 center be in an accessible but less populated area, more removed from major transportation routes and other potential hazards?

Have the respective governments explored an alternative method of funding the 9-1-1 system? An example is in Garfield County, where 9-1-1 and dispatch services are provided by a municipal authority that collects sales tax.

Would a transition to a regional or "Metro" police force ease a move to a stand-alone 9-1-1 and dispatching environment, rather than have the potential of creating conflict between incorporated towns and the county?

The continuing saga of the stalled Public Safety Initiative, and the clear need for new facilities, should serve as a signal to our local governments to start seriously thinking outside the box on how to streamline and optimize the delivery of public safety services.

Starting from the most basic assumptions, such as the structure of organizations and districts or the nature of jurisdictional boundaries, accomplishing this endeavor in a way that allows these professionals to best serve their communities in the most efficient way can only pay dividends when that demonstrated commitment to service trumps any imaginary line, parochial attitude, or uniform color.

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Two stories in the Daily Sentinel this month reported several elected and appointed officials stating that they were under a federally-mandated deadline to build a new 9-1-1 center before January 1, 2013. On August 10, reporter Leroy Standish included the following as a sidebar to a story where one County Commissioner was reported as saying "the clock is ticking to get the 911 communications center built within the next two years to comply with federal law":
The Federal Communications Commission has ordered that all public safety agencies upgrade 911 communications by Jan. 1, 2013. The process is known as “narrowbanding” because it will reduce the bandwidth of channels in use, according to the FCC. If the deadline is not met, the FCC could refuse to renew the 911 communication center’s license.
This mandate has a practical impact to the 9-1-1 Center relating only to its radio systems, and nothing else. To meet the requirements of this mandate, the Communication Center would need to apply for new licenses for its existing radio frequencies before the deadline, and reconfigure or replace transmitters and receivers at tower sites across the county. Additionally, every car radio and walkie-talkie in the field would need to go through the same process.

While challenging in scope, it is highly unlikely that this would require the hasty design and construction of a new building.

Mr. Standish reported in a Sentinel story on August 18 that the governing board of the Communication Center has elected to transition to what was termed an "800 Megahertz" radio network, better known as the State of Colorado Digital Trunked Radio System, or DTRS.
The board likely does not want to put any more serious dollars into their legacy systems, and are choosing the DTRS option to avoid having to refit on the VHF band, where they currently operate.

The Communication Center is working hard to help move this transition along. They were recently awarded a $100,000 Justice Assistance Grant for the purchase of radios by their user agencies.

This approach, while likely more expensive, makes sense, especially considering that most Colorado counties surrounding Mesa County have in large part already moved to the DTRS for their daily operations.

Mr. Standish again appeared to confuse the changing out of radios with the building of a new 9-1-1 center when he stated:
"In light of the voters’ rejection of the tax proposal, city and county leaders are discussing possibly building a separate, and more costly, 911 facility in order to meet the 2013 federal deadline".
Two e-mails to Mr. Standish went without a reply.

As much as I want to see these buildings built, I would like it to be accomplished in a measured and efficient way, and not potentially hampered by misinformation or an outright distortion of the facts. A new 9-1-1 Communication Center is sorely needed. There is no doubt about that. To continue to use this FCC mandate in an attempt to expedite those efforts may be convenient, but it's not truthful.


It took federal court intervention to get an antiquated and overcrowded Mesa County Jail replaced almost 20 years ago. Prior to that, the Mesa County Sheriff and Grand Junction Police co-existed in the same city block. Can we as a community of leaders and innovators take a closer look at the way we protect all of us, and with that collective expertise and the suspension of disbelief craft a best practice in public safety that all citizens can depend on? I hope so...

Hey, it could be worse. You could be living outside Leadville, or worse yet, Phoenix. (Sorry, Dad.)

Have a good rest of the week.

1 comment:

Daryl said...

I'm generally a proponent of dispatch center consolidation - keeping in mind, however, that too much consolidation with in a single geographic area can reduce your options for backup operations. Your question about whether a metro law enforcement department could ease the creation of an independent dispatch center is an interesting one. It seems like it could help. More often, however, I've seen it happen in reverse order - the dispatch center becomes stand-alone and consolidated, and that allows for an easier consolidation of law enforcement activities further down the line.