Pawhuska City Manager Dave Neely said Monday that research is being done to see if the city would be better off if it let the Osage County Sheriff’s Office take over its non-emergency police dispatching.
The sheriff’s office already handles all incoming emergency calls, commonly referred to as 911 calls in reference to the three-number code that callers use to designate their communications as emergency matters. What Neely said city government is looking at is the possibility of having the sheriff’s office take over non-emergency dipatch duties.
County dispatch passes on emergency matters to municipal police departments.
“There has been no decision made on that,” Neely said regarding the possible change. “It’s just something we’re looking into. It’s something we’re going to research a lot.”
Neely said that Police Chief Nick Silva is not favorably impressed by the idea of handing off non-emergency dispatch duties to the sheriff’s office.
“The police chief doesn’t like it, but it sure is costing us a lot,” Neely said. He mentioned cost and duplication of effort as issues that he’s thinking about.
“We’ve got two services doing the same thing,” Neely said, referring to the sheriff’s office and the Pawhuska police. Two members of the Pawhuska City Council told the Journal-Capital they think any decision on the dispatch issue would likely be an administrative matter for Neely to resolve as city manager, but they expressed interest in knowing more about the issue.
Neely said things are still in what he called “the talking stage,” and he indicated that he would respect the views of city councilors.
“If the council has an opinion that they want to keep it, then we’ll keep it,” Neely said.
Police Chief Nick Silva told the Journal-Capital that he told Neely he thinks the change would be “a bad idea.” Silva also said Neely didn’t bring him into the discussion at the beginning. The chief said he found out information was being gathered when he saw a dispatcher making copies of radio logs. Silva said he asked the dispatcher why she was doing that, and she replied that Mr. Neely had asked for them.
Silva said he asked Neely what was going on, but the city manager declined to tell him at that point. Silva said it was the end of September when this happened.
“He said someone had requested them and he couldn’t tell me who,” Silva said. It was only later, shortly before Thanksgiving, that Neely shared with him the potential change in dispatch operations, Silva said.
Silva said he understood that Councilman John Brazee was seeking a meeting to discuss the idea. The chief also said that handing off non-emergency dispatch duties to the county could result in four full-time dispatchers and some part-time dispatchers losing their jobs. He said that he thinks the change could negatively affect the police department’s operations, to include security coordination with the local public schools.
The Journal-Capital first became aware of the growing discussion about whether to ask the sheriff’s office to take over Pawhuska’s non-emergency dispatch duties when Councilor Brazee posted an item on social media, seeking public feedback.
Brazee told the newspaper he thinks the question of whether to change dispatch arrangements sounds to him like an administrative matter for the city manager to decide, but he explained that he had been told that he supposedly already gave his blessing to the change. Brazee said he had not declared his support for changing dispatch arrangements and he was interested in knowing more.
He clarified, in a telephone conversation last Friday, that he had not yet asked for a meeting.
“People were told that I said ‘yes’ to it, and I didn’t,” Brazee said. “I didn’t like that.”
Brazee explained that he sought feedback on social media because he works for the people and regularly seeks public guidance before deciding what view of a particular issue to support.
In a telephone conversation Monday, Mayor Roger Taylor said that he, also, views the question of whether to change police dispatch arrangements as an administrative matter for the city manager to decide, but he also voiced interest in knowing more about what the financial aspects of any change would be, as well as whether Pawhuska residents would receive the same level of service that they receive from the current city police department non-emergency dispatch arrangement.
Neely said Monday that feedback he’s received so far about changing dispatch arrangements has been in opposition to making a change, but he added that he’s not confident everyone fully understands the issue.
“All opinions I’ve seen have been against it, but a lot of them don’t understand what’s going on,” he said.
Sheriff Eddie Virden said Monday that he wants to do what’s best for the community as a whole, and it will be up to Pawhuska to decide what direction it wants to go.
He did say, however, that the Pawhuska police are using a different radio frequency from everyone else, which makes it impossible for other first-responders to know what they’re talking about. Virden said that the frequency difference could make it hard for the rest of the law-enforcement community to reach out and help Pawhuska in a time of need.