News : Berkeley Officials See Non-emergency Calls Differently
Martinsburg, WV, USA, May 11, 2018 -- Berkeley County officials are at odds over whether after-hours non-emergency calls to the Berkeley County Sheriff ‘s Office should be handled by the county’s 911 Central Dispatch Center or the Sheriff’s Office.
Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller and Deputy Chief Scott Wilson appeared before the Berkeley County Council on Thursday to ask it to return to the county’s former system, where the Sheriff’s non-emergency calls were handled by Central Dispatch during after-hours.
Starting Jan. 1, non-emergency calls to the Sheriff’s Office during off-hours are now directed to an automated system where callers leave a message in a voicemail box for the Sheriff’s Office to respond to during regular business hours.
Prior to Jan 1, all Sheriff’s Office emergency and non-emergency calls coming in during off-hours were fielded and dispatched by the county’s 911 Central Dispatch Center, with the exception of court-related matters such as servicing of papers, Wilson said.
"In January this year, we asked the county to reduce our (call) hours," Wilson said. "Instead of having someone on Sheriff’s board until midnight, we reduced it down to 8 p.m., and then in February we reduced it down to 5 p.m."
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Under the new system, non-emergency calls aren’t fielded by a call center person; callers are directed to leave their messages in a call box.
However, that call change has created its own problem, Wilson said. The Sheriff’s Office is now getting citizens’ complaints that their non-emergency calls didn’t receive timely attention, so the Sheriff is asking the county to return back to the previous non-emergency call response system.
"We’re getting calls from the public of people asking to speak to an officer — even though it might not be an emergency — right away," Wilson said. "People are upset that they’re not getting a response to their call right away."
Since February 2017, the Sheriff’s Office has also had an agreement to field the State Police’s calls from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday to help them with their manpower shortage.
"We’re asking that the message system be changed back to what it was prior to Jan. 1 this year , where it simply states, ‘if you have non-emergency, and you need to speak to an officer now, press option one, or option two,'" Wilson said.
"That call will be transferred to the dispatch center, and they will dispatch it out to some officer."
Mary Kackley, director of Berkeley County Central Dispatch, said the Sheriff’s Office previously employed office workers to answer and screen calls.
"They were screening the calls to make sure that those that we were getting for dispatch were calls that needed the response of a deputy — we weren’t getting any of those other (non-emergency) calls," Kackley said.
If the county decides to return to the old call system, Kackley said Central Dispatch will now field all non-emergency calls, not just calls requesting a deputy’s response.
"We have to look at 911 as being a 911 Center, not a repository of everybody else’s issues or situations they want," Kackley said. "You will have to decide whether you want a 911 Center, or a centralized communications center."
Berkeley County Council President Doug Copenhaver declined to address the Sheriff’s Office’s request, saying it needs to be discussed in committee talks with the council.
In other council news, the Sheriff’s Office asked the council to reschedule its meeting to discuss the Sheriff’s proposed new salary guidelines for deputies to the council’s May 17 meeting.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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