By Jeff Gallatin
City officials are saying adding new technology to city services and possibly new police dispatchers can be done at some point, but noted it would have to be done over a period of years.
While going over a report on their review of Bay Village city operations, Kevin O’Brien and Dalia Shimek of the Cleveland State University Center for Public Management said at the April 16 City Council meeting that a lack of modern technology was one problem, as well as employee morale issues.
As part of the discussion about modern technology, the consultants said adding trained dispatchers to the police department instead of having police officers do it could also upgrade city operations. They said the current system is not an effective use of trained police officers’ skills, while also noting that money could be saved by possibly combining police dispatch services with those of surrounding communities. Bay Village already takes part in combined fire and EMT services at St. John Medical Center with other surrounding communities.
When asked later, police Chief Dave Wright said hiring dispatchers could be beneficial, but noted it’s not a new idea.
“There’s been discussion about giving the police dispatchers for about as long as I’ve been around the department, so we’re talking 30 years or more,” Wright said. “Part of the problem has been is that we’ve heard that if we get a dispatcher, then we would have to lose a police officer, so we’ve respectfully declined it and would continue to.”
Wright said if hiring dispatchers were considered and/or approved without losing officers, it would have to be done gradually.
“It’s a situation where to start off, we would bring one dispatcher in on afternoon shift, where we’re the busiest and could use the most help at first,” he said. “We’d make sure that person was working out and trained properly, then we would bring in others over time. It would probably be a several-year period. Bringing in, say, 10 dispatchers at once wouldn’t be feasible in terms of training them all at the same time and getting them ready all at once.”
Wright said he would be glad to have his department and the rest of the city get new technology upgrades if possible in coming months and years. He said the department would like to get mobile data terminals and related equipment for patrol cars. He said being able to have officers do reports in their squad cars and be able to transmit them to shift commanders, for example, would be a major benefit.
As for the employee morale problems, Wright said his department’s officers are aware of the recent disagreements between the administration and City Council about police department staffing levels and related areas.
“Our first job is still to protect the citizens of this city, and it remains that,” he said. “We’re aware of what’s going on, but we’re still going to go out and do our jobs.”
City Council President Paul Koomar said later the city has been implementing new technology where possible in recent years.
“Our new website is an example of that,” he said. “It’s an upgrade and something that has been worked on for a while.”
He also noted Bay’s success with the fire dispatch center and said that, if possible to implement, adding dispatchers for city police could be logical move in future years. Koomar also praised service Director Dan Galli for working to put new technology in place in the service and building departments.
Both Koomar and City law Director Gary Ebert said hearing about low employee morale is not surprising, given the economic climate of the last few years.
“We’ve had reorganizations of departments and positions, as well as eliminations of jobs,” Ebert said. “So morale is likely to be low when you consider that.”
Koomar noted council and the administration have had to combat diminishing resources, and that the personnel and department changes combined with no pay raise also would be a factor in causing low morale. He said he appreciated the Cleveland State staff noting the city had weathered the prolonged recession well compared to other governmental agencies.
He said having the administration pass along information from the directors’ report and other information relevant to employees would be beneficial.
Mayor Debbie Sutherland said at the meeting that there was a lot of useful information in the report. Later, Sutherland was on vacation and unavailable for more extensive comment.