In the Fall of last year, I received a proposal from Pinellas County Sheriff, Jim Coats to provide police communications and records management services for the Gulfport Police Department. I requested this proposal at the city manager's direction to look for more efficient means of providing police services to Gulfport residents.
The proposal calls for transferring the following functions from the Gulfport Police Department to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office:
- Emergency (911) and non-emergency telephone calls for police service
- Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) service (tracking, logging, and archiving Call for Service data)
- Dispatching emergency and non-emergency calls and other police activity
- Data entry and maintenance of police offense, incident, and crash reports (RMS database)
Although it would have a great impact, this proposal would not completely eliminate our responsibilities in these areas. For example, Gulfport Police personnel would continue to bear the burden for handling the following:
- Providing a means to process the volume of alternative business currently handled by communications dispatchers (after-hours calls for other city business; data entry and filing for citations, trespass warnings, bicycle registrations, and domestic violence injunctions)
- Maintaining support (information technology, funding, operations, training) for related hardware and software
- Responding to public records requests for documents created by and for GPD personnel
- Uploading supplemental documents to the records management system database
- Crime analysis of data entered by and for GPD personnel
Some important changes will occur if this proposal is implemented. Many of these will be directly apparent to the citizens; some will be indirect:
- There would no longer be an employee in the police building during non-business hours. This means that we could lose the ability to immediately let people into the building as a safe area of refuge in emergencies.
- Without some very expensive modification, we could lose the ability to safely use our holding facility. Because there would be nobody on hand to monitor the video or alarm systems after hours, use of the facility would violate accreditation and acceptable safety standards.
- There is a steep learning curve associated with changing the CAD and RMS systems. Police officers, supervisors, detectives, analysts, and IT personnel will see reduced efficiency during the time it takes to learn the intricacies of the new software.
- Sheriff’s personnel are not as geographically familiar with the City of Gulfport. Many times, callers do not have an address to provide to the call-taker, and locations are identified based on knowledge of local landmarks and street names. Lack of familiarity could result in a delayed response in some cases.
- The sheriff’s telephone system is automated. Non-emergency calls are answered by a computer with menu selections. Gulfport residents are not used to this.
- Gulfport management would lose direct authority and quality control over several important functions, including call-taking, dispatching, and certain IT support. We would also lose direct control over decisions related to communications operations, software applications, and others.
Implementation of this proposal would allow the city to reduce or eliminate the following expenses:
- Dispatch Personnel—four full-time dispatchers could be eliminated at a savings of approximately $264,000 annually (including salary, overtime, benefits, training, etc). It is recommended that we retain our records specialist to process records requests, answer administrative telephone calls, and serve as a public receptionist. It is also recommended that we retain the police services supervisor to serve as a police IT and equipment technician.
- Information Technology Personnel--approximately 70% of the network administrator's time is spent managing the police department's CAD and RMS systems. Elimination of that position could save approximately $75,000 in salary and benefits.
- Equipment operations—elimination of some communications and computer equipment would result in a savings of approximately $17,000 in associated maintenance costs annually.
Those savings aside, there may be some extra costs associated with making this change. We will need, for example, to configure a way for after-hours, walk-up complainants to communicate with PCSO staff. We will also have to modify some wiring and video surveillance equipment to allow the records technician/receptionist to have access to these functions during business hours. Approximately $10,000 is estimated for these expenses. Additionally, we estimate that it will cost approximately $30,000 to convert the existing data in the GPD database so that it will be accessible via the sheriff's database.
Considering an initial estimate of $115,000 and an ongoing annual estimate of $85,000 from the sheriff, savings projections would be as follows:
$201,000 approximate initial savings
$271,000 approximate annual savings
Other Factors to Consider
A number of other factors should be on the table when considering the feasibility of outsourcing police records and communications:
- Sheriff Coats has agreed to give consideration to those Gulfport employees who may lose their jobs in the transition, but he cannot guarantee they will be hired. If they are hired, it will be at the starting rate with no accrued benefits, and it will not necessarily be in the same or similar capacity.
- Acceptance of this proposal could obligate future budgets and operations to comply with unforeseen changes over which Gulfport management would have little or no input.
- The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is not accredited by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. Although they are accredited by other similar organizations, slight differences in the standards could result in non-compliance issues for which we are accountable but over which we have no control.
- This decision should be considered permanent. Once this service is transferred to the sheriff’s office, bringing it back under the control of the police department would be nearly impossible given the associated startup costs.