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RBC I Losing three of a police department’s dispatchers, two of them in a 45-day period, is a challenge no department wants to face.
In February, that is exactly what happened to the Rangely Police Department when two dispatchers found other positions and a third was dismissed.
The circumstances brought about an agreement between the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office (RBCSO) and the Town of Rangely that has long been on administrators’ radar but was only put into effect recently.
Three years ago, the Town of Rangely and the county upgraded their record management, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and phone systems, which made compatibility between county and town dispatches possible, Rangely communications supervisor Mercy Mcalister said.
In February, once the Town of Rangely realized it needed assistance with around-the-clock dispatching, codes were programmed in that allowed regular Rangely phone lines, not just 911 calls, to transfer to the county dispatcher in Meeker.
The shift launched a sharing of duties between town and county that will last until mid-April, Mcalister said. Rangely dispatchers currently take calls from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the sheriff’s office covering Rangely dispatch on nights and weekends.
Starting April 13, county dispatch hours will shift to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only once a new Rangely dispatcher takes on solo shifts and a third continues training. The department is still looking to hire two more positions.
Dispatch coverage by the RBCSO currently costs the Town of Rangely $200 per day, the same price the sheriff’s office charges the Meeker Police Department to dispatch for ambulance, police department, fire and emergency water and gas services.
“If you consider the other 14 hours we’re not covering, the $200 a day is probably a bargain until we get fully staffed,” Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius said. “There shouldn’t be much of a budget impact if we handle it correctly.”
Sheriff Anthony Mazzola said the shift hasn’t affected response times.
“The dispatchers we have on both ends of the county know their locations,” he said. “When somebody calls in an accident, they’re going to say they’re at 123 Main Street or on mile marker 10, Highway 64. The locations are pretty generic and, usually, the people calling in know where they’re at. If not, we have GIS technology that allows us to enter landmarks and determine that.”
On the town’s radar are pay discrepancies between Rangely dispatchers and those doing comparable work in Meeker and elsewhere. The challenges of shift work, Brixius said, can also factor into high turnover rates.
“Compared to some of the dispatches in our local region, yes, we’re probably going to have to make some (pay) adjustments on the new hires,” he said. “I don’t care which dispatch center you look at. Regardless of compensation, in many cases, turnover is still high. I think a lot of it has to do with shift work.”
Brixius and Mazzola give Rangely and RBC communications supervisors Mcalister and Mike Cook credit for coordinating the smooth transition between dispatch centers. The support will happen in reverse next year, as Rangely plans to cover the county’s dispatch for several days as the county moves into the new justice center.
The town’s capability to do so will come as the county hands down newer-generation equipment to Rangely early next year.
“We’ve been talking about wanting to accomplish this for some time, and, with the shortfall in dispatcher availability on this end, it kind of forced our hand,” Brixius said. “By the first quarter of 2016, we would hope to have both dispatches fully functional and providing backup for each other.”