YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – On Monday, Mahoning County started a new way of dispatching 911 calls. It’s now being handled in two places countywide, instead of one for each community.
The Mahoning County 911 Center in Youngstown is empty. The computer screens are dark and the equipment looks extremely outdated. Anyone who calls for help now will be transferred to dispatch centers in Boardman and Austintown.
“The system is still the same. Everything is still working. It was never not being answered, it’s just going to a different answering point at this time,” said Mahoning County 911 Director Maggi McGee.
Austintown handles 38,000 calls a year. Boardman handles over 40,000. They trunked together a while ago with an 800 megahertz radio system.
Now they’re taking care of dispatching for the county sheriff’s department and nearly every other community police agency.
“This was a high-volume call center because it was under one umbrella. We had to break that out and move that over,” McGee said.
The 14 dispatchers that covered Mahoning County have been split between the Austintown and Boardman locations.
Equipment needed to be updated as well.
Boardman’s old police radios sit in a corner. The department now has new radios that use 16 frequencies and take advantage of four strategically-placed radio towers in the county.
“For one thing, the coverage. You can ask any of the officers that are out there using it. When they push the button to talk on the radio, somebody answers because they can hear them now,” said Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols.
“We have the ability to know where we’re at, talk to any other agency, regardless of their radio,” said Albert Kakascik, with Boardman Police. “That was a problem before because if another agency had a VHF radio, they couldn’t hear us. We’d have to call on a cell phone or bother a dispatcher. Now we can just turn on our portable and connect with them.”
The idea is that working together improves every aspect of law enforcement and that police finally have the ability to talk with others in a reliable way.
“It actually makes it easier because so many of our agencies are smaller and we work with one another. Now as we share the same frequencies, it’s more common for us to interact,” Kakascik said.
This will lead to what so many in the county want next — 911 texting.
This story is corrected to show the number of calls Austintown handles a year.