BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – For the last 10 years, those calling 9-1-1 from their cell phones in Mahoning County were automatically connected with the closest dispatch center, thanks to GPS technology.
But starting in January, a new law will go into effect in Ohio, forcing counties to reduce the number of locations where cell 9-1-1 calls can be received to no more than four locations.
Boardman Twp. Administrator Jason Loree said those that do not comply with the new laws could face penalties.
“If we don’t, we’re losing about $300,000. We’ll lose half the funding we get for 9-1-1 centers,” he said.
Loree sits on a statewide 9-1-1 steering committee. He said half of Mahoning County’s eight “public safety answering points” — or p-saps — are to be eliminated but not the dispatching locations. It means cell phone calls could be answered in one community — only to be re-routed to the proper area.
“It’s going backward, and it’s unfortunate,” Loree said. “But the law was written in such a way that does not account for new technology, and we’re stuck.”
Local officials say the law, which was passed in 2014, was aimed at encouraging more regional cooperation among local governments and eventually saving money through centralized answering and dispatching. That part of the law will not take effect for another three years, however, meaning no one is saving anything now.
Columbiana Police Chief Tim Gladis said he does not see the benefit to his department.
“Regardless of where the calls go, they’re going to end up back here, so I can’t reduce staff and there’s really no savings to me,” he said. “I have to keep a fully functional dispatch center to handle the calls when they do finally get back here.”
On top of that, Gladis and others worry the change will add something that emergency crews are usually trying to reduce in emergencies — the time needed to answer a call.
“Starting in January, they’ll go somewhere else, possibly the Sheriff’s Office where a dispatcher will have to answer the call, ascertain where the caller’s calling from and then send that call back down here,” Gladis said.
Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said, although the general idea is good, there are flaws to the plan.
“Overall, I think regionalization is a good thing, but you know, this appears to be creating an extra step and we’re not real happy with that,” he said.
Loree says a meeting is planned next month in Columbus with legislators to discuss the issue, with the hope that changes can be made before the law goes into effect.