MARION — Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale presented a five-year strategic plan in August during a City Council work session.
McHale, who was sworn in as the city’s chief on Dec. 15, 2016, has made several changes to the department’s operations, including establishing a beat structure — the city’s first — and partnering with the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center on criminal intelligence and data-driven policing.
Some of the goals outlined in his plan include upgrading technology, restructuring the department, reorganizing staff and better prioritizing service calls and officer response.
About two weeks ago, McHale presented phase six of his strategic plan, which focuses on the city’s 911 center. Most notably, the plan includes adding staff, creating supervisory roles and improving dispatcher training.
Q: Give us an overview of your five-year plan for Marion’s 911 center.
A: The PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) needs structured oversight that considers police and fire needs. We’re going to add two fire stations in Marion in the next four years, and they’re going to want different types of tiered dispatch for the different stations, and we want to be able to separate the intake of calls from the dispatching of resources.
We also need to establish day-to-day management and shift supervision using personnel that understands 911 operations to provide oversight and quality control to ensure we are taking calls and dispatching resources in a way that is efficient and up to standard. Right now, we don’t have that. I’m also asking to add five dispatchers over the next five years so that we can separate the intake of calls from the dispatching of resources.
Q: What are the biggest issues affecting the 911 center?
A: My biggest concern is that we are way behind where we need to be.
Right now, we have only one dispatcher on a majority of the time. That’s one person to handle all the emergency and non-emergency calls, and dispatch the resources that are needed. That’s a big problem. What happens when two emergency calls come in at the same time? How does that person answer and dispatch for both calls? Adding more dispatchers would ensure we can have two dispatchers on each shift.
Q: You mentioned supervision was needed. Can you explain that?
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A: Well, we just appointed Rhonda Kaczinski as the communications center manager — which is a first for Marion — and she’s bringing more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications, including as a dispatcher. And, that’s a start, but there needs to be another level of supervision underneath her, and right now we don’t have any supervision other than Rhonda.
That’s why we need to add three lead dispatchers to oversee the shifts. We need quality control and we need oversight to make sure we’re doing what we need to be doing in dispatch. We also need better training for our dispatchers. They dispatch for police and fire, but they have had no real training in how to dispatch for fires, and the better we can take calls and dispatch resources, the better it is for us, for the fire department, for the city and for the community.
Q: What else do we need to know?
A: Our 911 dispatch center is the No. 1 public safety issue in Marion right now. Think about it. When people call 911, they expect us to help, and we need to make sure we are taking those calls and dispatching resources in the most efficient and professional way possible.
This community did not evolve with the times when it comes to public safety, and because of that, we are way behind where we need to be.
We have some of the most talented people in the state in this agency, and over the years, they have not been properly supported by the person sitting in my chair. We need to fix that and get the dispatch center where it needs to be because that’s what’s best for the community.
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