By Paul T. Choate
July 9, 2012. At 12 a.m. on Sunday, July 1, the Blowing Rock Police Department integrated into a consolidated dispatch system with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department. Now, a little more than a week in, the transition looks to be going well.
“It has actually gone smoother than probably anyone anticipated,” said Blowing Rock Chief of Police Eric Brown.
Until the consolidation on July 1, Blowing Rock, Boone and Beech Mountain police departments and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office had dispatch centers. The concept of consolidating them all into one system has been somewhat controversial. Earlier this year, on April 10, the Blowing Rock Town Council initially rejected plans to consolidate and join forces with Watauga County. However, after revisions, the proposal was accepted in a 3-2 vote on April 17.
Also, in the past, the Town of Boone has been reluctant to consolidate, and comments from Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford after the Intergovernmental Retreat in March of this year alluded to the same hesitant feelings of the past.
Crawford told High Country Press in March, “I think [the Boone Town Council] will be looking at [consolidated dispatch] all through our budgeting process and retreats going forward and will look real close and start crunching the numbers. One thing we really want to look at it is to make sure we aren’t shortchanging our citizens. We don’t want a reduction of services.”
Crawford has also said that he is “not necessarily” opposed to the idea of a centralized dispatch system but feels it should be carefully considered.
“A lot of it is political turf wars with everyone wanting to keep their little domains,” is how Commissioner Vince Gable described the controversy surrounding consolidation in November 2011.
Blowing Rock’s integration into the consolidated system is estimated to save them $82,000 annually. Additionally, no members of the Blowing Rock Police Department lost their jobs as a result of consolidation.
“We had four full-time positions. We had three full-time dispatchers. We had a full-time vacancy come up, but we plugged part-time people in that spot. Two of our full-time dispatchers had been with us long enough to where they could retire. One of them retired in May and one of them at the first of July … so no one lost their job,” said Brown, adding that one of the four employees was retained for other administrative duties at the police department.
Even prior to Blowing Rock joining forces with Watauga County, 911 calls were automatically routed to dispatchers with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. If the calls were for fire or medical, they were in charge of dispatch. However, if the calls were police related they were relayed on to Blowing Rock dispatchers. Under the new consolidation, Watauga will dispatch Blowing Rock officers directly.
“I am in favor of a consolidated dispatch system,” said Brown. “I feel like when all the funding goes to one center we will be able to enjoy a state of the art facility.”