By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Police Chief Mike Barthel stated his case Monday in the contentious debate over whether city police or the Hill County Sheriff's Office should operate the new enhanced 911 dispatch center.
Barthel told Havre City Council members that the city could provide more efficiency and security.
Several audience members, as well as City Council member Pam Hillary, asked why the county hadn't been invited to the meeting to explain its position.
"It is still just one side of the issue," resident John Brumley said.
A committee of city and county representatives had agreed two years ago that the new dispatcher center - which provides caller ID of incoming calls to dispatchers - should be located at the Havre Police Department. County members of the e-911 committee recently said the decision should be reviewed because of a cost estimate showing the city dispatch equipment and center would need $100,000 in improvements for e-911. Regular 911 calls are now dispatched by the sheriff's office.
Barthel said locating the dispatch center at the city won't cost taxpayers more than the county location. James and Darlene Sharp have donated $76,000 for a new radio console, and are willing to make further donations to improve dispatching, he said.
He said 65 percent of 911 calls originate in the city. Also, the city dispatch center receives a lot of walk-in traffic.
City dispatchers are in a more secure environment than county dispatchers and perform only one function, as opposed to county workers, who also operate the Hill County Detention Center, he added.
Barthel asked what would happen if an inmate put a knife to the throat of a detention officer and told the dispatcher, who also controls the jail doors, to open them.
"Dispatch needs to be located in a safe, secure environment," he said.
Barthel said today that scenario is not far-fetched. During a suicide attempt in the jail last week, the sheriff's 911 dispatcher had to transfer dispatching duties to the Police Department, he said. "They couldn't handle that event, dispatching and controlling at the same time," he said.
Hill County Under Sheriff Don Brostrom said a woman prisoner attempted to hang herself with a sheet Friday. She was treated and released from Northern Montana Hospital within an hour and returned to the jail.
"It's not that we couldn't do it," he said of the dispatching. "If you have help, you ask somebody for help."
Sheriff Greg Szudera said the dispatcher merely asked the city to record the situation for her.
Szudera said Hill County still believes that the detention center, designed for dispatch, is the proper location for housing a primary dispatch center.
As of this year, a separate officer controls the jail cells during the busy parts of the day, so the dispatcher only has one duty, the sheriff said.
If nightmare scenario is possible in the county, it's possible in the city as well, he added.
"What if a terrorist goes to the city with two machine guns?" he said. "We can come up with all these things. The bottom line is the detention was designed for dispatch."
Mayor Bob Rice said the city had made two renovations with the understanding that the e-911 dispatch center would be located at the police station: converting a basement room into an emergency command center, and adding bullet-proof glass and doors to the police station's foyer.
In his presentation, Barthel said the county does not carry the frequency used by the city's Fire Department despite many requests from the city that it do so.
Janet Haas, head of city dispatch, told the City Council that the dispatchers have not been happy with the service from the county.
The e-911 committee will meet Dec. 14.