LAKEWOOD, Ohio — During Monday's City Council meeting, Lakewood leaders began early discussions regarding the future of its 911 dispatch center operations.
The conversation comes after an Ohio law, which went into effect in 2013 and has been updated over the years, that calls for counties to only have, at most, three 911 dispatch centers, excluding those in large cities. The law goes on to say if a county has more than three dispatch centers, then state funding to that county would be cut in half.
Lakewood Mayor Meghan George works in the same building as her team of nearly a dozen dispatchers right now.
“Starting last year, the county began penalizing the city with a fee because we had not yet regionalized,” George told News 5. “My overall goal would be to keep our dispatch here in Lakewood. They do a phenomenal job, but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and ignore this law that exists. We have to have a community conversation to talk about it.”
But Monday's meeting was packed with police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, and residents all asking city leaders the same thing: to find another option than a merger.
One sergeant with the Lakewood Police Department told city council members that the 11 female dispatchers who work at Lakewood, are highly skilled and experienced in the area and they help aid in the public and first responder safety, daily.
"Our dispatchers know who we are, personally, and they are vested in our success and the cities. They see our faces daily and we see theirs. What kind of results will we get if all we become to each other are voices over a radio?" he asked.
In a letter submitted to the city council and signed by George along with the chief of police, chief of fire, and the IT director, the idea of joining the Chagrin Valley Dispatch is brought up. The letter adds that other communities, such as Rocky River, Bay Village, Westlake, and Fairview Park, are considering the same option.
According to its website, the Chagrin Valley Dispatch handles 911 calls for about 25 Cuyahoga County communities, including Brecksville, Solon, and Euclid.
A Lakewood resident who was previously employed at Chagrin Valley Dispatch said it would be a deterrent to public safety and response time if Lakewood merged with a regional dispatch center.
"One of the most important things that dispatchers learn is the intimate geography and common places of the agencies that they serve," she said. "This is not the type of service that any city that is part of Chagrin Valley Regional Dispatch receives. Their operation mindset is that any dispatcher can sit down at any seat and dispatch from any city the same, someone who has never visited Lakewood in their entire life could be handling calls from this city when minutes count the most," she explained.
One Lakewood dispatcher said she would be devastated if she and her colleagues were forced to leave Lakewood.
"We were shocked, hurt, and blindsided," she said. "They'd be disbanding our union, of 11 women, and shipping us over there with no union, little job security, and no guarantee of fair wages or safe work practices."
In North Olmsted, city leaders are in advanced discussions about handing over its operations and staff to Chagrin Valley Dispatch, which came up as part of a two-hour discussion during a Public Safety, Health and Welfare Committee Meeting back on May 25.
“The fact is, regionalization in dispatching is a reality,” North Olmsted Mayor Nicole Dailey Jones said during the meeting. “I'm not happy. The conclusion was to leave North Olmsted. Nor do I believe that our safety director, our police and fire chiefs, or our dispatch employees are happy about it. I do not enjoy having to make this decision.”
To track the status of the legislative action in North Olmsted, click here.
Lakewood City Council will move the merger issue to the public safety committee for further discussion.