By Kristin S. Agostoni Staff Writer for the Daily Breeze
Posted: 04/07/2010 06:22:29 PM PDT
A decade after El Segundo built and staffed its own facility for fielding 911 calls, city leaders plan to shift their dispatchers to a regional center that they believe is better equipped to handle emergencies.
The move, which Tuesday night won unanimous City Council support, will make El Segundo a client of the South Bay Regional Public Communications Authority, a consortium owned by the cities of Gardena, Hawthorne and Manhattan Beach, and which also serves Hermosa Beach.
El Segundo was formerly part of the authority, which is based in Hawthorne, but struck out on its own in 2000 in response to concerns about the effectiveness and reliability of the SBRPCA's equipment.
With hope that other cities would follow suit - Hermosa Beach was a partner of El Segundo's for a period of time - the small beach town spent $4.7 million in asset forfeiture money to build a dispatch center within its police station.
Now, though, El Segundo is looking for a change.
City leaders see cost-savings benefits to re-joining the regional authority, which will take in El Segundo's 11 full-time employees. But they also maintain city residents could be better served by a center with more dispatchers on duty, a "vastly improved" technical support system and access to more local agencies.
"The (regional authority) was struggling when we left. They were in a leased building. The lease was running out. They had no permanent operational structure.
It was in disarray," said newly retired El Segundo police Chief Dave Cummings.
"It's unfortunate that it cost so much, but since then the (authority) has significantly improved their operations," he added. "So has the city of El Segundo. Coming over ... is the right thing at this point in time."
In a staff report, Cummings said El Segundo would owe $519,000 in start-up costs over two years - to be paid from an equipment replacement fund. He estimates the move would save the city $1.1 million per year for the first two fiscal terms, with slightly greater savings estimated in subsequent years of the 10-year contract.
And with city leaders projecting an $8.6 million deficit for the upcoming budget cycle, cost-cutting strategies are needed.
Still, Cummings characterized the switch as a "major step forward for public safety" and told the council he'd recommend it even if no cost savings were involved.
During emergencies such as the April 2008 shooting of two police officers at the Pacific Theatres complex, El Segundo turns to the authority for assistance, Cummings said.
Only two city dispatchers were on duty the night of the movie theater gunbattle, prompting the regional authority to send in two of its employees to assist in taking calls and relaying information, Cummings said.
"Any incident of magnitude, two people are quickly overwhelmed," he said.
Ralph Mailloux, executive director of the South Bay Regional Public Communications Authority, said the deal with El Segundo will put 12 dispatchers on duty at one time. He estimates the transfer will take roughly six months to complete and go into effect on Oct. 1.
"It's a benefit to them (El Segundo). It's a benefit to us. ... The savings come in because they don't have to staff (or worry about) equipment issues. We have radio frequencies that they don't have. "They have nice stuff. They built a nice facility," he said. "It's very expensive to run one, though."
Once El Segundo's dispatch operations are relocated, Cummings said the empty space inside the police station could possibly be used for an expanded Emergency Operations Center, but that no decisions have been made.
Because it was constructed with forfeiture money - which comes from assets seized during drug deals and other crimes - it needs to be reserved for police uses, he added.
El Segundo started looking for a contractor to build its own dispatch facility in 1995 and wanted to bring Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach on board. At that point, the community had been a part of the regional authority since 1977.
The center was completed in July 2000, when El Segundo residents and civic leaders were invited in for an open house event. Former police Chief Tim Grimmond told the Daily Breeze that year the center would allow for faster response times and a chance to upgrade more quickly to better equipment.