Should San Mateo County Consolidate Police Dispatch Services?

A report released this week by the San Mateo Civil Grand Jury says, yes, in order to save money.

It's becoming a more common argument - should cash-strapped cities consolidate their police, fire and emergency services to save money? Or will that put residents in danger by lengthening response times?

A report issued by the San Mateo Civil Grand Jury Tuesday is recommending that cities in San Mateo County do just that, however.

According to the report, there is "a redundancy of dispatch centers in our County." 

The total population of all cities in San Mateo County is approximately 720,000. According to the report, there are 13 separate dispatch centers that field 9-1-1 calls and dispatch information to local police, fire and emergency staff.

The grand jury is recommending a consolidation of some of those dispatch centers in an effort to save money.

"Consolidation is good fiscal policy," the report reads, citing examples of other cities that have done so. "All the cities that have consolidated - and the taxpayers in those cities - have benefitted fiscally from consolidation....Cities that have consolidated this service with other cities report no drop-off in the quality of service."

The report indicates that, on average, other cities that have consolidated save approximately $11.59 per 9-1-1 call. While that may sound insignificant, some cities can receive as many as 10-20 emergency calls per day.

To put that number into context, the report says that a city that operates its own dispatch center spends roughly $30.04 per call; by consolidating, that number could be taken down to around $18.45.

The report further discusses how, if more cities were to use the Public Safety Communications Center (PSC), rather than rely on their own dispatch center or police department to answer calls, there would actually be more dispatchers available in emergencies.

The report references the San Bruno Fire of 2010 as an example:

"Some small cities...have just a few dispatchers and may have only one dispatcher on duty at any given time.

"For example, when the gas line in San Bruno exploded on September 9, 2010, at about 6:11 pm, there was only one dispatcher on duty in the San Bruno Police Department to handle a huge volume of 9-1-1 calls. The dispatcher was soon joined by one person from the Records Department, but they were overwhelmed by the number of calls. About 26 minutes later, personnel from the PSC and others arrived in San Bruno and set up Emergency Dispatch at the scene.

"To prevent the one-dispatcher scenario, the City of Colma has contracted with South San Francisco for night dispatch service. South San Francisco has a minimum of two dispatchers on duty at all times. The PSC has a minimum of 9 dispatchers at all times. All those interviewed believe that maintaining depth in dispatch centers is desirable."

In recent years, San Mateo County has consolidated dispatch centers, taking the number down from 22 to today's 13. The report calls that effort "successful," but insists that it is not enough, and wants further consolidation.

The report recommends city officials "continue, and to accelerate the process, the elected leaders of the cities of San Mateo County should drive the effort to consolidate dispatch services, and should not be distracted by perceived problems and pressures to resist change."

According to an article in Wednesday's San Mateo Daily Journal, however, officials in the City of San Mateo are not convinced.

San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim told the Journal he is less concerned about cost savings, and more concerned about making sure citizens get timely emergency services.

Read the full text of the San Mateo Civil Grand Jury report here.


PATCH WANTS TO KNOW - What do you think? Do you think the idea is good in order to save money, if the report is true and other cities have not experienced a "drop-off in the quality of service?" Or do you think it sounds too risky, and it is important for local cities to each have their own dispatch center to make sure calls are answered quickly enough?

Vote in our anonymous poll below, and feel free to expand upon your vote and add your thoughts in the comments.


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