Keeping watch

After more than six years of depending on LCSO to handle emergencies, Tavares reopens 911 dispatch center

TAVARES – An increasing number of emergency calls -which have doubled over five years – have led the city to reopen its dispatch center.

In 2000 the city closed its emergency dispatch center, leaving the Lake County Sheriff's Office to handle 911 calls.

Not anymore.

Last week, the Tavares Police Department launched its new 911 system and emergency communications center. The center is located within City Hall with at least two dispatchers on duty.
“The system is working just fine,” said Lt. David Myers. “We put out a lot of money and technology into it.”

The department started switching areas of Tavares to the new center May 31. The first 911 call was from a man in Florida Hospital Waterman calling to be moved to a better hospital, Myers said. Not exactly a life-or-death situation, but it proved the new system was up and running.

The decision to rely on the LCSO for police calls was a financial decision.

“Around 2000, the city was looking at it as less costly by having the sheriff's office dispatch for the department,” said Tavares Chief of Police Stoney Lubins.

The city and the number of emergency calls grew over the years. Police handled about 25,000 calls last year, more than doubled over the previous five years, Lubins said.

While this was going on, the department would be closed after-hours and weekends, he said.

“We felt it was best to have the communication center back and also have someone inside the department for all hours,” Lubins said.

The city council gave its blessing to the department's own communication center in late 2006. It took about six months, Lubins said, but it's now up and running.

The new center cost the city about $500,000 to start up. The cost includes remodeling, equipment, salaries and training for new dispatchers.

“We're anticipating somewhere between $350,000 to $400,000 as an average cost to run the system every year,” he said.

The communications center receives all 911 calls with only police-related calls being dispatched. Fire and paramedic services will continue to be monitored by Lake-Sumter Emergency Medical Services, Lubins said.

The center will also have a public window open for people to walk up and talk to the dispatchers. Security cameras will be installed for dispatchers to keep watch throughout the building.

The Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Records Management System (RMS) was provided by Spillman Technologies out of Salt Lake City, Utah, Myers said. Dispatchers will easily be able to manage information and calls with them.

“Eventually what it is going to create around here over the next year is a paperless, report-writing environment,” Myers said.

Dispatchers will also be able to determine the location of a 911 call anywhere – even if the caller is on a cell phone.

Police officers will have computers in their patrol cars, providing information about each call.

“It's the next generation of 911,” Lubins said.

The new system for Tavares is the first to ever be used in the county, Myers said. Five other agencies in the state use the same equipment.

“It's something the county will be moving to in about three years,” Myers said. “The county's 911 system is watching us right now to see how it works out before they make the purchase.”

Previously, the city gave the sheriff's office about $180,000 a year to dispatch. The sheriff's office also dispatches for Umatilla, Howey-in-the-Hills, and Fruitland Park.