The cities of Pismo Beach and Grover Beach are closer than ever to partnering up on emergency dispatch services, a possibility that's been in the works for years and that the cities say could save money and improve emergency response strategies.
- File Photo By Steve E. Miller
- FIRST LINE A proposed agreement between Pismo Beach and Grover Beach would consolidate the cities' emergency dispatch services.
At a meeting on March 2, Pismo Beach City Council unanimously voted to authorize the execution of an agreement to provide full-time dispatch services to Grover Beach, which city staff say would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings for both Grover and Pismo. The Grover Beach City Council will consider the topic later this month.
"This is a really big deal," Pismo City Manager Jim Lewis said at the meeting. "It's a great opportunity for two agencies to partner. It's a great opportunity more so for our agency to continue to provide excellent local customer service to our residents, while also extending that great service to a neighboring community that we care about. And, by the way, we might be able to have some savings."
Through the proposed five-year contract, dispatch services for Grover and Pismo would be conducted at Pismo's emergency communication center effective July 1, while Grover's would be transformed into an emergency backup facility. Both Grover and Pismo currently employ six dispatchers each, and through the partnership, that would be reduced to nine total positions. Grover Beach would employee four dispatchers at a cost of $540,000 in fiscal year 2022, and Pismo Beach would employee five for $637,150. That would save Grover an estimated $209,730 in fiscal year 2022 alone, and Pismo would save $127,430.
But Pismo Beach Police Chief Jake Miller said at the March 2 meeting that the consolidation isn't just about money. Regionalized dispatch services have proven to reduce risks and improve efficiency among involved agencies, and there's been a push nationwide for about the last two decades to consolidate neighboring emergency dispatch centers.
Miller said Grover and Pismo have mulled over the idea of joining forces many times in the past, and when the Grover Beach Police Department experienced a staffing shortage in its communications department in August 2020, it requested part-time dispatch services from Pismo Beach. The cities saw the initial month-to-month dispatch service agreement as an opportunity to test out the long-discussed consolidation.
"And I think what we found is it was a little more seamless than we even imagined," Miller said at the meeting.
While working together for a limited time, Grover and Pismo both saw cost savings and found that police response times and strategies became increasingly efficient and safe. In one recent case, Miller said a Grover Beach dispatcher sent an officer to a residence to respond to a report of domestic violence. The man involved was reportedly armed and dangerous. At the same time, Pismo Beach police pulled over a vehicle belonging to the man involved in the Grover Beach domestic violence case.
"We would have relied on either scanning or later calling the other agency to find out what's going on," Miller said at the meeting. "But here, with two dispatchers sitting under the same roof, one leaned over to the other and said, 'Hey, that subject you're stopping has to do with this call and could be armed and dangerous.' And that gave our officers a much safer approach to the problem."
So in February, Grover Beach requested that Pismo provide a quote for full-time emergency communications services. Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters said this partnership has been a topic of discussion for the last decade or so, but this is about the closest the agencies have ever come to actually making it happen.
He'll be presenting the proposed agreement at a March 22 Grover Beach City Council meeting. Peters said Grover and Pismo are also hoping to get Arroyo Grande on board, but whether that's plausible remains to be seen.
"Pismo Beach and Grover Beach have been working on this since last year and Arroyo Grande has been recently brought into the discussion," Peters told New Times, "because all three cities would make a true regional approach to dispatch in the area." Δ