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News : Nocco, Baker Pledge Cooperation on 911 Center
New Port Richey, FL, USA, March 25, 2015 -- Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and County Administrator Michele Baker pledged to work together to improve the county’s much-maligned 911 communications center.
"Anytime you want to meet me, you call and I’ll be there," Baker said.
The two agencies merged in 2013 into a consolidated communications center, but Nocco has called the merger such a disaster that two weeks ago he called for county commissioners to dismiss Baker when her contract expires this summer.
Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said the commission would discuss Baker’s contract in April or May. On Tuesday, he asked Nocco to focus on his concerns with the call center.
In front of a room packed full with first responders and their families, Nocco and his staff outlined several problems he says put his officers lives at risk. Those complaints boiled down to a lack of leadership, insufficient training and mistrust.
Nocco said hiring a new director and creating an assistant director position — to be filled by a lieutenant with the sheriff’s office — would go a long way to rebuild the partnership.
"If we’re the lion’s share of calls, we should be able to have a say in who gets hired," Nocco said.
The county has interviewed four candidates for the director position, which has been vacant for six months. Baker said Nocco’s staff has participated in all of the interviews. "We will not fill that position without concurrence from the Sheriff’s Office," she said.
Baker also welcomed the addition of a lieutenant to oversee the call center and dispatch. "I think it’s a brilliant idea," she said.
Nocco wants his department to have veto power over the five top managerial positions in the department, but he stopped short of demanding the dismissal of 911 Operations Manager Terry Goswick. He said Baker’s decision to hire Goswick, her former intern, over the objections from his department, caused the partnership to crumble.
Baker has defended the merger and her hiring decisions. She said since the merger 99 percent of emergency calls are answered within 10 seconds. But what happens after the call is answered is just as important. She said a new software program and new protocols would be implemented this week to make sure dispatchers don’t put first responders at risk.
"I completely agree with you — it’s not how fast we answer the calls," she said. "We will work with you to make sure we ask the right questions."
Last month county commissioners agreed to beef up the 911 department by adding eight more full-time call takers and dispatchers to reduce wait times and reduce staff burnout. But Nocco said it’s just as important to hire the right people — and since the merger the county hasn’t done the same type of background checks on job applicants that were required by his office. For instance, the operators have not been subject to drug tests.
That complaint resonated with Commissioners Mike Wells. "These folks need to be held to a higher standard," he said. "We need the best of the best."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, March 30, 2015