Steuben Co. sheriff calls out commissioners on 911 problems

STEUBEN, COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – In a stern letter emailed Thursday night, Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer took the Steuben County Commissioners to task over serious problems with the county’s 911 dispatch center.

Troyer asserted that his department should take over control of the center and said the sheriff’s office is already supplying the center with emergency help to get the county through what he called, “a potentially dangerous situation.”

Troyer cited problems with new technology that has not performed well since it was installed in Feb. 2011. The Open Sky Radio was taken offline two months later after problems communicating between the 911 call center and emergency personnel hampered efforts during a serious situation. It has since been put back into service.

The sheriff said staffing problems at the 911 call center have lingered for the past year. Troyer is using deputies to fill-in at the 911 center until Monday. He said only three full-time dispatchers are employed and are currently working 16 hour shifts. The center normally has 12 full-time dispatchers, according to Troyer.

The Steuben County Commissioners oversee the call center and appoint the center’s director.

Longtime dispatcher and current director, Cindy Snyder, submitted her resignation Thursday.

Troyer said control of the 911 center needs to be returned to the sheriff’s office, but the county commissioners are opposed to the idea. Troyer said earlier in the week he and Snyder went to the commissioners to express concerns and recommend the 911 center be placed under his department.

Troyer said the commissioners, “are not convinced that Communications should be a division of the Sheriff’s Office.”

As a result of the problems, a public meeting will be held Monday, March 10 at 9 a.m. at the community center on South Wayne Street in Angola.

In his email, Troyer specifically listed the names of all three county commissioners and said their inaction has created a public safety issue. He’s asking for residents in Steuben County to turn out for Monday’s meeting. Troyer said if the commissioners don’t act on Monday the call center will return to three dispatchers.

Politically, it’s unheard of for an elected official to publicly call out another elected official – especially of the same party, in an election year, at the local government level.

Troyer was elected sheriff of Steuben County in Jan. 2011. He’s seeking a second-term this year and will run for the Republican nomination in May’s Primary Election.

Of the three commissioners, Republican Loretta Smart is the only candidate on the ballot in 2014. She is completing her first-term as commissioner and will face Lynne Liechty in the May Primary.

Republican commissioners James Crowl and Ronald Smith are not up for reelection this year.

Steuben County Communications dispatches for dozens of county emergency personnel and works with the the highway department when necessary. Steuben County has an approximate population of 34,000 people.

Sheriff Troyer’s full e-mail is posted below.

 

This is an important message from your Sheriff:

Steuben County Communications, under the management of Steuben County Commissioners, is suffering from a critical lack of manpower, direction, and resources.  This places all members of our community – residents, businesses, visitors and public safety– in a potentially dangerous situation.

As your Sheriff, I have a duty to protect you.  I must inform you if the condition of emergency services is compromised to the point of risk to your safety and welfare.

The Communications department (911 Dispatch) is a crucial part of the emergency response framework.  It is the first point of contact when a member of the community needs help.  It is the emergency responder’s lifeline and source of information.  Dispatchers are there when you call 911, and when we call for backup.  A fully staffed, well-trained, professionally led communications department is vital to our safety.

Our Communications department has reached the point it can no longer safely operate.

Under its current management, only three of the twelve full-time positions are filled.  The Communications Director, appointed by the Commissioners, gave her notice of resignation today.

The full-time dispatcher and Indiana Data and Communications Systems (IDACS) coordinator quit via a text message last week.

The current staff is working up to 16 hour shifts.  The lack of staff has been an issue for the past year.

The Director, on 3/4/14, came to me, advised me of the current situation, and asked me to assume control of Communications.  Together we went to Commissioner Smith, where she again advised she was stepping down, and requested and recommended that Communications become a division of the Sheriff’s Office.

I spoke at length to the Commissioners about both the urgency of the current situation, and the long-standing state of affairs in Communications.

A multi-million dollar radio system that has not performed up to standards; non-employees listening to 911 calls in dispatch; failure to comply with IDACS standards; non-employees observing citizen’s license plate returns and operating the radio system; lack of participation in critical multi-jurisdictional emergency planning sessions; employees quitting for months with no replacements hired.  Nothing has been done by the Commissioners, who are responsible for managing this department. This is not acceptable.

The situation is critical.  It is a danger to all of us.  It must be resolved

The Commissioners simply do not have the law enforcement knowledge or resources necessary to oversee Communications.

The Director of Communications has requested emergency help from the Sheriff’s Office, which I have provided.  The Director has also recommended Communications be a division of the Sheriff’s Office. I believe that Communications should be a division of the Sheriff’s Office.  My oath of office is to protect you.  I have the background, knowledge, authority, management experience, and most importantly the public safety resources to operate Communications efficiently and safely.

But the Commissioners are not convinced that Communications should be a division of the Sheriff’s Office.

The Commissioners have scheduled a public meeting for Monday, 3/10/14, at 9:00 a.m. to decide this matter.  The meeting will be held in the Commissioners’ meeting room, Community Center, 317 S. Wayne St.

If you agree with my belief that our Dispatchers should be led and managed by the Sheriff, please let your voice be heard.  Please attend the meeting, or call the Commissioners with your opinion.  I cannot overemphasize just how dangerous this situation is.  North District Commissioner is Loretta Smart.  Middle District Commissioner is James Crowl.  South District Commissioner is Ronald Smith.

I have temporarily assigned full-time deputies to Dispatch through Monday, to stabilize the situation and maintain public safety.

We are working hard to assist the remaining dispatch staff.  But the Commissioners must recognize and accept the fact that the public will be better served with the Sheriff leading Communications.  If the Commissioners insist on maintaining their hold on Communications, it will return to three employees on Monday.  Is this safe?   Is this acceptable to you?

In the meantime, be safe, and thank a cop, firefighter, EMS, or dispatcher if you see him or her.

We remain dedicated to serving you, and protecting this community.

Thank you,

Tim R. Troyer

Sheriff

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