GUEST COMMENTARY: Property crimes, 911 consolidation key public safety issues

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Property crimes, 911 consolidation key public safety issuesBy Brian Miller
February 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Law enforcement in Northwest Indiana will face challenges this year.

One continuing challenge in Lake County is the rising number of property crimes, specifically burglary, and thefts of scrap metals. Nationwide, police agencies are focusing on both crimes as problematic in their respective communities.

With the recent rise in scrap metal prices, crooks have resorted to breaking into vacant homes and cutting out the copper plumbing. Aluminum downspouts, gutters, air conditioners and even siding have been stolen from homes. Municipalities are losing manhole covers, aluminum benches, and plumbing from parks and park buildings.

Pooling our intelligence, all local police agencies must work together to locate and monitor buyers of stolen metal. Towns and cities with scrap metal yards should pass ordinances requiring the sellers to produce identification when bringing in scrap. Additionally, the scrap yards should be mandated to pay all sellers with checks, instead of cash. These measures would ensure a paper trail for law enforcement to follow when stolen metal is sold to a scrap yard.

One of the biggest challenges for Northwest Indiana law enforcement is 911 consolidation.

Lake County is faced with the consolidation of all 18 police, fire and EMS dispatch centers. Porter County is trying to figure out how to pay for a consolidated operation, which those of us working on consolidation in Lake County are learning from.

The Legislature has mandated that all entities in each county must be consolidated into two public safety answering points by 2014. Two sites are required to prevent a natural or man-made disaster from destroying all communications in a one-center system. Ideally, the sites will be mirror images of one another, so in a crisis, dispatchers can be shuttled to the unaffected PSAP and continue to provide services.

Proponents of consolidation cite cost savings and interoperability of communications between all agencies as the prime benefits.

With cellphones becoming more prevalent, a large portion of 911 calls come from these devices. Depending on a caller's location, a call might be misdirected to the wrong dispatch center. This leads to time-wasting call transfers and slower response times to critical incidents. A consolidated dispatch system will eliminate some of these mishaps.

Additionally, with the reduction of redundant capital improvement costs, we can provide superior technical equipment, facilities and dispatchers. The goal is to create two dispatch centers with services exceeding what is currently provided. To accomplish this task, difficult questions will have to be answered by the police, fire, and EMS entities consolidated.

Determining locations for the PSAPs, purchasing the best technical equipment and standardizing general procedures are just some of the daunting tasks ahead.

No one can argue with the importance of providing high-quality dispatch services to residents. When every second counts, the dispatcher is the first responder in any emergency situation. The challenges faced by consolidation must be met -- and conquered.

Brian Miller is Hammond's police chief. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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