Shared dispatch with PA, Los Altos closer to reality
An effort by the Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos police departments to integrate their respective dispatch services took a step forward Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, when the Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved an agreement between the three cities.
The three agencies plan to purchase and maintain a "joint public-safety technology platform" that includes a dispatch system, a record-management system, and mobile applications for police and fire. The new platform is part of a $3 million "virtual consolidation" effort that the three departments have been working on since 2007, according to a report from Charles Cullen, technical services director at the Palo Alto Police Department.
Last month, Mountain View council members approved the project unanimously and allocating up to $1.3 million for it, but only after asking whether it would delay other capital projects. City staff said it wouldn't. City Manager Dan Rich said the system increases in cost over time, but would save money over the current system.
The three police departments currently use different dispatch systems, none of which are interoperable. Initially, the decision to share automated information systems was intended to leverage purchasing power and lower the costs of replacing the systems, Cullen wrote. But what began as a cost-cutting effort turned into what Cullen called a "broader initiative of sharing additional public safety technology as a method to share resources, improve response times, increase the resiliency and redundancy of these critical systems, as well as to enhance interoperable communications between the three cities' first responders."
Mountain View police Chief Scott Vermeer said system would put more information at an officer's fingertips. For example, the system would allow Mountain View officers to see whether a canine unit was available in Los Altos or Palo Alto without having to make several calls, perhaps reducing police response times.
Palo Alto's Feb. 21 vote will authorize the purchase of a computer-aided dispatch system that would be used by the three departments as well as mobile applications for police and fire vehicles. The Intergraph Corporation system, which has a price tag of $2.3 million, is expected to be the first of two major contracts approved by the three cities for the regionalization effort. The second contract would be to purchase a record-management system that includes an in-field reporting system for police officers. The three cities are expected to approve the purchase of the $675,266 record-management system in May.
Palo Alto will be on the hook for $1.2 million for the dispatch system, though the city expects a reimbursement of $224,439 from Stanford University for this project, bringing the city's cost down to $931,044.
The Mountain View City Council approved the tri-city agreement and the contract process on Jan. 24 and the Los Altos City Council is scheduled to consider it on Feb. 28.
The move to regionalize certain police functions isn't unique to Palo Alto and its neighbors. The recent economic downturn has prompted several police departments to look for new ways to cut costs. San Carlos, for example, decided in 2010 to outsource its police department to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.
At the Palo Alto council's strategic retreat last month, Police Chief Dennis Burns said the conversation about consolidation of public-safety services has become increasingly common in Santa Clara County and elsewhere.
"One of the issues that police chiefs, city managers and fire chiefs throughout the state and the country are talking about is opportunities to regionalize," Burns said at the retreat. "One of the first things they speak about is, 'Can we regionalize our dispatch centers?' That's been a discussion for some time in our county."
Under the proposed agreement among the three cities, Mountain View will serve as the lead agency in procuring the shared system and will host the core set of equipment that comprises the system, Cullen wrote. Palo Alto will serve as the back-up site. Mountain View will invoice the other two cities and make payments to Intergraph Corporation on behalf of the three partners. Each city will be responsible for maintaining its own data and providing technical staff to support the system's use.
Once all three cities approve the agreement, the hardware and software is expected to be installed around June 2012. The cities are tentatively scheduled to switch over to the new systems in spring 2013, according to Cullen's report.
—Daniel DeBolt contributed to this report