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COFFEEVILLE – Training, personnel, oversight and budget management for the county’s dispatch center has been shifted entirely to the county’s 911 department after supervisors granted a request from newly hired EMA Director Stewart Spence and Deputy EMA Director Jarred Logan.
Prior to the change the sheriff had been responsible for staffing the dispatch center and managing the budget for dispatchers’ salaries while the EMA director was responsible for training and providing equipment for the dispatch center. The unanimous vote by supervisors at the March 28 meeting in Coffeeville will put all of the dispatch operations under the EMA directors. The dispatchers will continue to work at the same location inside the county jail.
“All we are doing is taking them off the sheriff’s department and putting them on us. So we have the authority to do whatever we need to do with each individual dispatcher.
“So Gooch will not have anything else to do with the dispatching?” District Four Supervisor Eddie Harris asked about Sheriff Jerimaine Gooch’s responsibility.
“We will take it off their hands,” Spence answered.
“Y’all will be over the dispatching, hiring and firing and everything?” Gray asked.
“That’s right, and the training and all that,” Spence said.
“Because the dispatchers are not only for the sheriff’s department, they are for fire, EMS and everything,” Gray noted.
“That is the thing. Dispatchers handle fire calls, City of Water Valley calls and everything,” the sheriff agreed.
Shift In Dispatching
The change follows a slow shift in the county during the last decade to move all dispatching operations to the sheriff’s department. Prior to September, 2015, all 911 emergency calls in the county were answered by dispatchers at the Water Valley Police Department under a contract between the City of Water Valley and Yalobusha County.
That agreement had been in effect for 15 years with one exception, prior to 2013 all 911 medical calls were rolled over from the Water Valley Police Department to Yalobusha General Hospital where ambulances were dispatched. Former sheriff Lance Humphreys worked out a deal for the sheriff’s department to dispatch the medical 911 calls in 2013, expediting response time for medical emergencies.
Following construction of a new county jail in 2015, the 911 dispatch center was moved from the Water Valley Police Department to the jail and the sheriff’s department was responsible for dispatching fire calls in the county, Oakland and Coffeeville police departments in addition to medical calls and law enforcement calls in the county.
The next change came in 2019, when the City of Water Valley entered an agreement for the sheriff’s department to dispatch Water Valley Police Department officers directly, eliminating a duplication of services as the city had continued to employ dispatchers for its police and fire departments.
Less Than Ideal Location
Another issue surfaced during the dispatcher discussion after Washington noted tough working conditions for dispatchers inside the jail. The supervisor explained that dispatchers are located in a small room in the middle of the pods holding inmates, watching the incarcerated men and women through one-way windows as they answer emergency 911 calls.
“If you are in the middle of a 911 call dealing with a suicide and they have an inmate in there cutting up and doing crazy things – that can have a tremendous impact on the dispatcher,” Washington explained.
“And they don’t get paid to be a jailer,” Gray agreed about the overlapping duties that often include jail responsibilities such as opening cell doors in addition to dispatching.
But Washington cautioned that if the dispatchers are moved outside of the jail to another location in the future, it will cost more money to operate the jail.
“If we ever move the dispatchers, that is going to put more pressure for the sheriff to hire more jailers. The five of us have to understand the economic impact if or when that ever happens,” Washington cautioned. “We would have to hire more jailers.”
“We would really need two more jailers,” Gooch said. “They never should have been put in there in the first place,” the sheriff added.
“The effort to save money was probably why it was done,” Washington said.
“That is a bad place,” Gray agreed.
“We are trying to get them out of that room. It is an issue, we can’t get applicants back because when they walk into that room, they are gone,” Spence said about applicants as a short-term solution may be to located the dispatch center in another location at the jail.
“Where are we at on getting those dispatchers certified?” District Four Supervisor Eddie Harris asked as the conversation continued.
“All of them are certified except the new hires,” the sheriff answered.
“And some are coming up for recertification,” Spence added.
But Spence cautioned that the dispatchers are required by law to have EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatcher) certification if they dispatch ambulances. He added that there had been some confusion about this specific certification between Jackson officials and the dispatch supervisor.
“There are a couple dispatchers that have it, but a lot of them don’t,” Spence said about the EMD certification.
“They have one year from when they got hired to get all of this certification, or by law we can’t pay them. We will have to terminate them. We are going to have to get on the ball with this because some of them are getting close to the one year mark,” Spence explained.
Following the discussion, supervisors voted 5- 0 for the change and moving the remainder of the dispatcher budget from the sheriff’s department to the 911 budget.