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Chief Deputy Answers Questions on Dispatch

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office chief deputy discussed his department's handling of police dispatch duties at the Gulfport City Council meeting Tuesday night.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office made a pitch to the Gulfport City Council for how it would handle police dispatch services if Gulfport officials decide to contract with the sheriff's office as part of the final 2012 city budget.

Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office addressed the council and about 25 Gulfport residents at Tuesday night's regular meeting. He stressed the familiarity of the PCSO in providing services to a large part of the county.

"There are 24 cities in Pinellas County," Gualtieri said. "We provide primary law enforcement services to 12 of those cities, and we provide dispatch services for an additional three. We have been in the business providing primary law enforcement for unincorporated Pinellas County area for obviously a long time."

"We have been contracting with area municipalities going back from the '70s," he added. "So we have a lot of experience doing it. It's very important to us, the services we provide."

Gualtieri assured the council that services Gulfport residents expect from police would remain the same.

"As far as non-emergency calls are concerned, somebody picks up the phone today and calls a non-emergency number, we would forward that number so that it remains the same," he said.

"I really believe that for residents of Gulfport, it would be seamless," Gualtieri said. "They wouldn’t see any difference in the delivery of service."

The current Gulfport employees due to be outsourced — four dispatchers and a network administrator — will be offered jobs with the county, Gualtieri said. Whether to take the jobs would be up to the individual staff members.

"We recognize the importance in taking care of our employees," Gualtieri said. "We will do everything we can to ensure the success of your employees at the sheriff's office if they choose to accept employment with us."

"That is very important to us, and we have done that every single time we have contracted with an entity," he said.   

Would Dispatchers Be Familiar with Gulfport?

One of the concerns of Gulfport residents in opposition to the plan was that county dispatchers would not have a sense of Gulfport's unique community. That was also on the mind of Councilmember Sam Henderson, who voted against the plan last week.

"Once we are no longer running this operation ourselves," Henderson said, "it's no longer entirely up to us how we handle it."

"If we relinquish control," Henderson added, "that's a big concern I have. There is no guarantee we will have that same kind of rapport, that same kind of community knowledge."

Gualtieri agreed that community awareness is important in understanding the neighborhoods served by police dispatch, and that familiarity may take some time. He suggested that PCSO dispatchers ride along with Gulfport police to help accelerate the process.

A new Pinellas County sheriff was another concern of council members. Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats retires in November, and the council wondered if the change would affect any agreement Gulfport makes with the PCSO.

Gualtieri assured them that any contract would be honored no matter who was in charge.

"There is no profit margin with this contract; I am sure that any sheriff will do the right thing," Gualtieri said. "The costs are what they are, and I am sure any sheriff will do the same thing."

How Would PSCO Budget Cuts Affect Service?

Budget cuts were another issue. In the past four years, the sheriff's office has trimmed nearly $108 million from its budget.

If there were any further budget cuts, would outsourced dispatchers be affected?

"There have been very few cuts from the communications center, and we only made those cuts where it wouldn't affect service level," Gualtieri said. "Just like having officers on the street, you have to have people in the communication center to get the info out. We would never let it get to an unacceptable level."

"We're in good shape," he added. "In fact, we're hiring a number of people throughout the agency."

A preliminary plan to allow the county to provide police dispatch was approved by a 3-2 vote last week. Gulfport city leaders are now under pressure to approve a new city budget by the end of September. The move to allow the sheriff's office to provide police dispatch would save Gulfport an estimated $147,677 in 2012 and $305,226 in 2013.

The council expressed gratitude for Gualtieri's appearance. It answered several of the lingering questions on this contentious and emotional issue.

"I'm sure you weren't expecting a real friendly crowd," Henderson joked.

"I'll take any crowd," Gualtieri replied. "It's fine with me."

The debate over outsourcing police dispatch will continue at one final special budget meeting at Gulfport City Hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Gulfport City Hall is located at 2401 53rd St. S.

Frank Verdino September 21, 2011 at 09:24 PM
The proponents of this plan first declined to outsource dispatch in June, came back in July with a whole new point of view and commenced their research after the decision was made. They heard and saw what they wanted to hear and see because they had already made their decision.
GGagnon September 23, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Hello, It sounds to me like Frank is upset that the council doesn't share his point of view. Instead of posting on a chat online, maybe you should conduct some research and propose a thoroughly thought out solution to the budget crisis that Gulfport will be in without cuts from somewhere and propose it next time the council has open discussion. It is my understanding that the first plan that the council suggested was raising taxes and utilities, and that they were met with resistance to that plan resulting in a closer look at option #2. I have to agree with mtober in that this council has put in a great amount effort to find the best solution for Gulfport. Now outsourcing the Gulfport's dispatch was not an easy decision to make, proven by the fact that they had originally declined it in the first place. If the budget had enough room in it to keep everything, then there wouldn't be an issue here. The fact of the world is that money DOES NOT grow on trees to be harvested every spring.
GGagnon September 23, 2011 at 05:45 PM
One thing that bothers me about outsourcing our dispatch is the fear mongering that is being spread by the opponents. They will say, as fact, that outsourcing the dispatch will increase the time it takes to dispatch an officer to the location, and citing that minutes could be the difference between life and death. To the elderly population and families of small children residing in Gulfport, this could be a seriously dangerous situation for them. The fact is that emergency situations will, and always have been, handled by the 9-1-1 emergency line. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that I have been able to find stating that outsourcing dispatch has increased response time on non-emergency calls. Another confirmed account is telling business owners on 49th St. that outsourcing dispatch will increase crime rates along that corridor. I would like to see the reports specifically stating that, with clear evidence of course.
GGagnon September 23, 2011 at 05:46 PM
On Friday September 16th , at around 5:30pm on 60th St. just south of the Pinellas Trail, I was approached by a woman who asked me to sign a petition to save Gulfport’s dispatch while I was jogging. I politely declined and she responded “You have been lied to. The city council will raise your taxes after they outsource our dispatch”. I do not know where her information comes from, but I find it absolutely appalling that she is going door to door telling people such wildly fabricated stories. It is clearly apparent that this woman was targeting those citizens of Gulfport who do not follow what is happening in council and trying to scare them into signing her petition. I can only hope that not everyone walking around with that petition is as unethical as that woman was. I would last like to thank everyone for their posts. Even when I don’t agree with what is being said, I do enjoy reading everyone’s opinion. I look forward to any rebuttals to continue my debate, as well as any other person’s opinion for or against what I have said. GGagnon
jo September 23, 2011 at 09:58 PM
JO---- COMMENTED NOTHING!!!!

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