New dispatch center

The City of Brentwood plans to open its own police dispatch center instead of continuing its contract with the City of Antioch.

The unanimous decision by the Brentwood City Council last week came after Brentwood Police Chief Mark Evenson explained the shared center is strained by the increase in both cities’ populations and number of emergency calls and crime, leading to compromised services for Brentwood residents and officers. Brentwood has contracted with Antioch for dispatch services for about 20 years.

“This is not about (the Antioch Police dispatchers),” Evenson said. “They have been doing great work with limited resources for a long time. This is about a dispatch service center that has been strained because of increasing demands in call loads, population and crime, and them not having the resources financially or personnel to adequately address those things.”

The switchover, which could come in 18 to 24 months, would cost the City of Brentwood about $1.5 million in startup costs plus about $1.8 million a year to operate the center. Brentwood currently pays Antioch about $845,000 a year, $994,000 less than it will cost for Brentwood to have its own dispatch services.

Despite the cost increase, Evenson and the council agreed changes needed to be made.

Evenson said the department has received a flurry of wide-ranging complaints about current dispatch services from residents, including unanswered 911 calls, being put on hold for long periods of time and rude operators. 

The safety of Brentwood officers is also a concern since they are often competing for airtime on their radios, and the current equipment used by Antioch leaves some Brentwood officers unable to communicate with dispatchers in certain parts of the city, Evenson said.

The decline in service can be attributed to the changes in population, call volume and crime in the two communities, Evenson said.

Brentwood’s population shot up by 110 percent from 2001 to 2013, while Antioch’s increased by 14.5 percent. Calls for service in Brentwood during that same time jumped by 140 percent, with Antioch calls only increasing by 17 percent. Crime in the two cities has also increased, with Antioch’s growing by 83 percent from 2001 to 2012 and numbers in Brentwood bumping up by 50 percent.

“The Antioch dispatch center is pretty much overrun with calls and our citizens are not getting the service they deserve,” said City Councilman Steve Barr. “I am willing to roll up my sleeves and figure out how we are going to pay for this.”

Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Brentwood wants to have its own dispatch center because the city allocated room for one when it built the police station.

However, he cautioned that the state, not the city, ultimately decides how many 911 lines are in a dispatch center.

“The state is the overall authority on how many 911 lines a city gets, and its based on population and calls for service, so we are adding our sixth line by the end of this year,” he said. “Every dispatch center on 911 calls is going to get a busy signal. Brentwood is not going to be any different.”

But Evenson said the new center will eliminate the strain of Antioch residents and give control over staffing to the City of Brentwood, both factors that will increase service to callers and decrease response times to incidents, he said. Brentwood also uses an advanced dispatch system that will eliminate dead zones in communication between dispatchers and officers.

The council’s decision was welcome news to a handful of residents that advocated for the switch at the meeting.

 “In the last 12 months, Antioch dispatch has dropped at least a dozen of my phone calls,” said Annette Beckstrand, a Brentwood resident and downtown business owner.

Fellow resident Frank Passmore, a retired Brentwood police officer, said the city’s decision could one day save a life.

The city will now hire a consultant to finalize the plan and develop a funding proposal for the center’s initial startup costs and continued operation. Both plans will be brought back to the council for its consideration.