As she reminisced Thursday about the 12 years she has worked as a dispatcher for the Charleston Police Department, Roniel Jones said she had gotten good at multi-tasking.
Charleston is the busiest when it comes to calls to area police agencies. In a sample time period, from August through October, calls for Charleston police accounted for 40 percent of all 215,221 calls from six agencies. Here’s the breakdown:
1. Charleston: 87,493 or 40.65%
2. N. Charleston: 62,141 or 28.87%
3. Sheriff’s Office: 28,877 or 13.42%
4. Mount Pleasant: 23,857 or 11.08%
5. Isle of Palms: 10,120 or 4.70%
6. Sullivan’s Island: 2,733 or 1.27%
Source: Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center
She answered 911 calls. She told the police where to go. She relayed information to keep officers safe.
CPD phone numbers
Nonemergency phone numbers for the Charleston Police Department have changed with its switch to the consolidated dispatching system. People who need CPD’s assistance should:
Dial 911 for emergencies and crimes in progress;
Dial 743-7200 for nonemergency police help and officer response;
Dial 577-7434 for administrative offices.
But the city’s move this week lifted some of those duties off the 17 city dispatchers, such as Jones, who transferred to the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center.
The department became the sixth and final police agency to join the center, where call-taking and dispatching duties are separate. It will allow dispatchers to concentrate on talking with officers in the field and feeding them information, such as whether a suspect is armed.
“We can get the officers and the citizens what they need,” Jones said Thursday, two days after the move. “We can focus on dispatching instead of doing several things at one time. It’s great.”
Accounting for 40 percent of the total call volume countywide, Charleston’s police dispatch had been the lone holdout until it agreed in early 2010 to relocate to the North Charleston facility.
All of its 17 dispatchers now work at the center that hired 10 others to handle the added workload. They’ll be paid by the city until January, when the county will take over the tab. That’s expected to save the city $1.6 million annually.
Chief Greg Mullen attributed the city’s late arrival to concerns five years ago about the transition and the level of specialized service the county would offer.
Folly Beach, for example, pulled out of the 911 center in 2011 after complaints that dispatchers lacked familiarity with the city. It’s now the only area municipality that doesn’t participate.
Before approving the switch, Charleston also had spent $1.5 million on new record-keeping systems.
But with the county’s new $27 million building on Palmetto Commerce Parkway broken in, the city had planned to hop onboard in January. It moved up the switch, Mullen said, partially because it had been struggling to hire part-time employees this year to work until January, when they would be laid off.
In a fatal shooting outside a downtown gas station this summer, that meant a single woman answered a bevy of 911 calls from frantic witnesses while coordinating the police response.
In the first two full days of the new setup, the center fielded about 2,100 calls from Charleston.
On Thursday, Mullen visited with Jones and others who once worked in Charleston. Jones had quickly become comfortable in her new role as seven computer screens — instead of the four she was accustomed to — glowed in front of her.
“So far, so good,” Mullen said. “They haven’t missed a beat.”
The change gets the Charleston police working on the same call-logging systems as other officers countywide. They can quickly learn, for example, the call history of an address outside their jurisdiction.
“That’s given us a significant improvement in our situational awareness,” Mullen said. “It’s a significant enhancement for officer safety.”
The center, though, has fought off its share of criticism this year.
An employee was arrested in September after investigators said she failed to send officers to 45 calls. Director Jim Lake said oversight measures should prevent that from happening again.
New technology that automatically sends 911 calls to a dispatcher’s head set also has improved call-answering times, he said. The center takes about 3,500 calls daily.
The biggest change for Charleston callers, Lake said, will be that they won’t hear their complaints relayed to police officers like they did when city dispatchers handled multiple tasks.
They also must answer a litany of standard questions that often frustrate callers. Someone who needs help after finding a shooting victim, for example, might be asked, “Is anyone hurt?”
The center now employs 135 telecommunicators. About 30 work during any given shift.
With the new dispatchers in place Thursday, Lake looked out over the vast room of glowing computer screens. He saw a milestone.
“We did it,” Lake said. “It’s finally full.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.