During a recent breakfast meeting with the East Pasco Networking Group, Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe briefed those gathered on the city’s current consideration of combining its 911 police communications system with the Pasco County Department of Emergency Services in New Port Richey.
The looming decision “has nothing to do with finances,” Poe said.
Instead, he said, it is “all about officer safety, citizen safety.”
The move would essentially create a centrally located communications center for all emergency personnel and shared CAD/RMS (computer-aided dispatch systems and records management systems), to eliminate 911 calls being answered by dispatches from the Zephyrhills Police Department (ZPD) and Pasco Sheriff’s Office — and the need to transfer wireless callers between agencies.
A full dispatch consolidation model would mirror what’s now in place at the Dade City Police Department, which joined Pasco’s 911 system in 2015.
Under this setup, the county handles all 911 calls, prioritizing calls by importance and dispatching the closest city or county units accordingly, on the same radio frequency. At the same time, Dade City police employees answer all non-emergency calls.
Poe was city manager of Dade City when the systems were combined.
He underscored the benefits of the shift. It has improved communication channels between agencies and has provided access to important records to individuals or suspects crossing jurisdictional boundaries between the city and the county.
For instance, it allows the agencies to have background on someone’s previous encounters with law enforcement entities, such as knowing if there’s a documented history of fighting or resisting arrest with personnel from the Zephyrhills and Dade City police departments, or the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
It also has proven to be beneficial in terms of law enforcement response, he said.
He cited an incident involving the report of a gun at a Dade City area McDonald’s. Seven nearby sheriff’s deputies and four on-duty Dade City police officers responded immediately to the scene without incident.
“I like to think it works well,” Poe surmised, regarding the merged communications system.
Meanwhile, the city manager dispelled any conjecture that a 911 system consolidation is a means to eventually disband Zephyrhills Police into sheriff’s office operations, similar to the merger that happened with the city’s fire department.
“There’s zero percent chance that the police department will merge with Pasco County,” said Poe.
The city manager said he has a great relationship with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, but noted they cannot offer the same level of service to residents of Zephyrhills as the local police department provides.
That’s because of the number and types of calls that the Sheriff’s Office must respond to, Poe explained.
“Consolidated dispatch, has nothing to do with the rest of the department. We are not looking to get rid of our police department. That is not the case at all. It is solely communications, and it is all about officer safety and citizen safety,” Poe said.
The Zephyrhills City Council, however, voted last September to consolidate its local fire department into Pasco County Fire Rescue — whereby the county assumed control of two stations on Sixth Avenue and Dean Dairy Road.
“That was not a fun thing to go through,” Poe said.
“I know council didn’t like it,” Poe said, referring to the decision to end the city’s independent fire department that had served the city for more than 100 years.
However, Poe said, in contracting out fire service responsibilities to Pasco County, both area stations now have an ambulance and increased staffing.
Response times were another consideration.
“It just made sense to have one responding agency, because they space it out, they know what they’re doing, they space them so they have minimal response times for each station, and so to be able to add two stations to the mix was huge for Pasco County…and I think the residents won,” Poe said.
The two former fire stations have been renamed, but the fire trucks retain some local flavor, with signage that indicates they are serving the City of Zephyrhills.
Poe said there also are plans to add another Pasco County Fire Rescue Station in Zephyrhills within the next few years, at the corner of Chancey Road and Yonkers Boulevard. When that comes online, Pasco County Fire Rescue Station 18 in Crystal Springs will be abandoned, he said.
That’s important because the city has never had three fire stations in the area, Poe said.
Published April 07, 2021
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