Metro-East News

Swansea will have 911 calls answered in Belleville

As part of a state-mandated consolidation of 911 call centers, Swansea has decided to have Belleville answer the village’s 911 calls and dispatch emergency responders.
As part of a state-mandated consolidation of 911 call centers, Swansea has decided to have Belleville answer the village’s 911 calls and dispatch emergency responders.

Swansea has opted to have Belleville answer its 911 calls and do the dispatching for emergency responders, the village’s police chief said.

The consolidation of 911 call centers will take about 90 days to complete. It is part of a state-mandated consolidation of 911 centers, which are referred to as public safety answering points.

Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson said the decision to go with Belleville was based on location.

“It boils down to geography,” Johnson said. “Multiple times a day Belleville backs us up; multiple times a day we back them up. Frequently that occurs without telecommunicators being in the middle of it.”

He added Belleville will be able to monitor surveillance cameras at the Swansea Police Station and at village parks.

However, Swansea officials have been reluctant to go through the state-mandated consolidation and said the move could end up costing the village more money per year.

Johnson said because Swansea has a smaller department, the telecommunicators at the police department take on duties in addition to answering calls and dispatching emergency responders.

Among the duties telecommunicators in Swansea also have are greeting members of the public through a secure window and answering questions; proofreading officers’ reports; researching criminal histories for detectives; copying recordings of radio, telephone and 911 transmissions; filling out bond sheets; running requested background checks; and copying DUI DVDs for the state’s attorney’s office.

Johnson said Swansea will probably need to hire a number of people to handle those duties.

“We were lucky we had full-time telecommunicators who could do that,” Johnson said. “They wore multiple hats.”

“When the state touts (consolidation) will save money; it’s just not true,” Johnson added. “Not only do we have to pay the Belleville Police Department; we also have to keep people at our department.”

Johnson said Swansea and Belleville officials are finalizing an interagency agreement, and would not immediately disclose how much Swansea would pay Belleville to answer the village’s 911 calls.

It boils down to geography. Multiple times a day Belleville backs us up; multiple times a day we back them up. Frequently that occurs without telecommunicators being in the middle of it.

Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson

The agreement is expected to be finalized in mid-March. It also would take about 90 days to complete the physical switch-over, Johnson said.

He added Swansea would have to look into switching over its computer-aided dispatch system and records-management system. Johnson said the village is working on determining how much it will cost to do the physical switch.

“All those significantly add up, and there’s no guarantee the state of Illinois will ever reimburse (the costs),” Johnson said. “It will take hundreds of hours of IT people to make sure everything works.”

Johnson said the six full-time and two part-time employees in the Swansea PSAP cost about $500,000 a year. They will have the opportunity to apply for positions in Belleville, but it is still being determined how many will be needed, Johnson said.

According to the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Systems Board, Swansea had fewer than 6,700 calls to 911 in 2016.

However, Johnson said there are 21,000 overall calls a year, such as non-emergency calls for barking dogs, officers notifying telecommunicators about going on foot patrols, and so on.

“The last thing we want to do is have an officer do a traffic stop and not call it out on the radio,” Johnson said.

Swansea is the last St. Clair County PSAP to be consolidated.

Under a state law, counties with more than 250,000 people had to cut in half the number of 911 call centers by July 2017. When the law went into effect, St. Clair County had eight and Madison County had 16 PSAPs.

Madison County received an extension from the state until August 2018 to complete its mandated consolidation.

In St. Clair County, O’Fallon and Fairview Heights combined their 911 call centers. The Cahokia and Centreville PSAPs both had CENCOM pick up its 911 calls.

East St. Louis also has its own PSAP.

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