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Officials pleased with results of 911 meeting

December 05, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County's sheriff and 911 director met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon to address issues that the sheriff said concern officer safety, and ended up implementing a couple of policy changes.

Reporters were not allowed in the meeting, but Sheriff Randy Smith and Central Dispatch/911 Director Mary Kackley agreed that the pair met for about 21/2 hours. Representatives from the West Virginia State Police and Martinsburg Police Department also attended, as did county attorney Norwood Bentley III and county Administrator Deborah Hammond.

"It was a productive meeting and (it) appears that we're on the road to getting a lot of policy changes initiated," Smith said.

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Kackley said she, too, felt the meeting was productive.

"I was very enthusiastic about the outcome," she said.

The meeting came about after Kackley and Smith became engaged in a heated argument two weeks ago during a county commission meeting.

At that time, Smith voiced several concerns about 911 dispatching procedures, including instances when he said nobody at 911 seemed to listen to his radio transmissions. Kackley defended her employees, and said many of his complaints could be traced to equipment problems.

During that Nov. 21 meeting, the county commissioners mandated that no 911 operator is to dispatch a call as being "in the area of." For example, rather than saying an incident occurred in a general area, 911 dispatchers must now give a specific address or location.

Other issues were to be addressed during a closed-door meeting, they said.

During Wednesday's meeting, several other policies were discussed, Smith said. For example, policy dictated that callers who needed to see a police officer, but not for an immediate emergency, were asked if they preferred a state trooper or sheriff's deputy.

Now, unless the caller volunteers a preference, such calls will be dispatched on a rotating basis, Kackley said.

Kackley said they also discussed but did not decide whether extremely urgent information should be broadcast simultaneously over city police, sheriff's department and state police frequencies. Police within Martinsburg and the state police have separate dispatchers and radio frequencies from 911 and the sheriff.

Both said one issue that was not resolved was whether 911 dispatchers should handle all police-related calls. Currently 911 operators handle all calls from midnight to 8 a.m., and starting Dec. 1, began handling calls from 4 p.m. to midnight from people who dial the sheriff's department directly, rather than 911.

That leaves sheriff's department secretaries to handle calls during the day from people who call the sheriff's phone number.

Smith wants 911 operators to handle all calls all the time, saying anything else is a waste of resources. His secretaries are not trained to dispatch calls, and have other duties, he said.

Kackley said her current staff and equipment cannot handle all the calls. Between 70 percent and 75 percent of all calls phoned in are police related, she said.

She said participants talked about whether they should meet periodically throughout the year, but did not make a decision.

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