Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

911 is broken, just not everywhere

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 9, 2011 at 10:53 am with 3 Comments »
August 9, 2011 9:04 pm

Third in a series inspired by readers’ requests

“Nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes.”  Benjamin Franklin

As an inventor, journalist, diplomat and turkey-lover, Mr. Franklin was quite the Renaissance man. Though he is currently more occupied with the former condition (death), I doubt he would be greatly surprised at the current discussion regarding an increase in the latter–more specifically, the proposed sales tax vote to cover a new 911 system.

With apologies to Ben, there should never be certainty about an increase in taxes. Any measure that provides the government with deeper access to our collective wallets should be properly vetted and justifiably explained.

In the case of the new South Sound 911 tax proposal, at least one question remains.

The Law Enforcement Support Agency (aka LESA), which serves several Pierce County police and fire agencies, is a large bureaucracy. While this fact does not make it immediately suspect, it should provide a potential reason why five non-subscribing entities have their own dispatch system. From my own experience, I recall the many fits and starts when LESA stood up the “new” computerized system a few years ago. The experience was not pretty.

The Tribune article (8/1) breaks down the six disjointed dispatch centers around Pierce County. This scenario makes it clear that a new interlocal agreement, which enable communities to divide their administrative costs on common needs like jails and dispatch centers, would be an excellent and efficient use of taxpayer money.

For first responders, there is a vital need for seamless communication. Switching bands, requesting communication “patches” from dispatchers, or borrowing a radio from another agency are common and frustrating methods to circumvent communication lapses. In addition, the current 911 system’s problems, such as blind (or in this case, deaf) spots, interoperability issues and a proposed federal reduction in radio signal boost are real problems. A repair is in order.

However, once the bucks have been spent–and spent well as appears to be the case for Puyallup’s dispatch center–changing up the game plan may be a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Sheriff Pastor mentioned this in his Viewpoint letter (8/7), adding that agencies whose situations do not necessitate buying into the the large amalgamation that would become known as South Sound 911 should be given a future opportunity when such a need exists.

That is an excellent option if it shows up on the ballot.

The new system, which is looking like a steroidal version of LESA, could be a healthy investment for our county, but only if each community is given the opportunity to decide for itself. No city should be forced to lay off its own staff and shutter its expensive dispatch equipment as a result of a county-wide vote.

In Mr. Franklin’s era, forcing a tax on a community in this manner was deemed to be “taxation without representation.” If the question of choice in the South Sound 911 tax proposal remains in doubt, then we would all do well to take another piece of advice from Mr. Franklin.

“When in doubt, don’t.”


Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. The patch system that Puyallup has helps some with the interoperability question. I’m not saying it’s the answer.

  2. menopaws says:

    Lesa is incompetent. Our 911 system is the worst in the entire US in terms of response time. Kudos to Puyallup for providing it’s citizens with better protections. My experience of calling and listening to the phone ring and ring and ring and ring was NOT confidence inspiring. They want to upgrade—how about some adminstrative changes at the top? I got lots of different excuses as to why my call was not answered, but someone in Emergency Management told me it happens a lot and to continue making a fuss……..Why should we pay higher taxes to reward incompetence?

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    I’ve heard that comment a few times over the years, menopaws. The bureaucracy appears to be fairly thick over at LESA. I like the idea of allowing Puyallup to expand and take care of everyone…wouldn’t that shake things up a bit?

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