NELSONVILLE — The interim Chief of Nelsonville Police Scott Fitch has wasted no time since receiving his appointment to the department nearly a month ago.
As he said in his initial report to Council in June, a major issue for the department is how officers are currently dispatched. There is no central dispatcher at the moment, with all calls to the department going either to a voicemail which is sent to the officers on duty’s service vehicle, or by whoever happens to be in the office answering calls.
This leads to a delay in service and has created frustration among Nelsonville residents. Fitch said this has been the number one complaint he’s heard concerning the department.
The city also pays around $48,000 a year for the county’s 9-1-1 dispatching center’s services, but confusion was voiced surrounding why that service was not working for the city. Council member Greg Smith said the city had become the “red-headed step-child” in the county’s dispatching system, but did not know why.
Therefore, Fitch began to look for another option. However, dispatching services are expensive. Independent contractors who remotely dispatch cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, which is not feasible with the city’s current budget. The last time the city had its own dispatching system in 2004 it cost about $250,000, Smith noted.
Fitch approached Hocking College President Betty Young to discuss partnering and utilizing the college’s dispatching center which currently only dispatches the Hocking College Police.
She agreed that it would be beneficial, and offered a trial period through the end of the year for free. Fitch said the ballpark numbers for an annual contract have currently been voiced around $70,000. The service would operate like this:
- An individual calls the Nelsonville Police Department. A Hocking College dispatcher would answer the call, and send an officer or two to the situation.
- An individual calls 9-1-1. The County dispatching center picks up the call and notifies the caller they are going to be transferred to the Hocking College dispatching center. From there, officers are dispatched.
Fitch explained that this is exactly how the Athens Police Department dispatching currently is set up as well, except they are not partnered with Hocking College.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
Fitch also noted that he is seeking to continue another service for residents by continuing to post daily call reports to the Police Department’s Facebook page. Currently, the data collection system is too unorganized to accurately get the reports online within a reasonable time limit and not absorbing the officers’ time.
He also noted the department will be implementing a parking ticket system, having found a box with “hundreds of unpaid tickets” in the chief’s office.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “But we’ll get there.”
Other Council business...
Nelsonville Council member Greg Smith informed the other members that an upcoming, yet unscheduled, utility committee meeting will discuss removing the recycling dumpsters at City Hall and implementing a curbside program.
An emergency ordinance concerning retaining services of a floodplain engineer for a renewed discussion with the Federal Emergency Management Agency concerning the floodplain area in the city. If the FEMA plan passes, a large portion of residential homes and structures will be in the new floodplain, causing issues with building and insurance. The measure approved spending upwards of $10,000 for the engineer’s services. City Attorney Garry Hunter informed Council that if the matter goes to court, it could cost upwards of a $100,000.
Council also approved an ordinance that will allow the Fire Department to grow by three part-time firefighters. That would amount to three full-time firefighters and 13 part-time. However, applicants are needed to fill those positions.