New Albany police chief questions motivation for 911 dispatch merger

New Albany police chief questions motivation for 911 dispatch merger
New Albany Chief of Police Todd Bailey addressed media reports outlining county and city officials' support for the merging of the two 911 dispatch centers in the county.

By ERIN WALDEN
News and Tribune

NEW ALBANY, IN (NEWS AND TRIBUNE) - The need for a joint city-county dispatch center in New Albany is disputed by the city's police chief.

Chief Todd Bailey called a news conference Friday, when he accused City Council President Al Knable of telling a falsehood to show a need for a unified dispatch. Bailey also said the push for joint dispatch is political.

The News and Tribune previously reported Knable said he called 911, but his call was rerouted to Floyd County's dispatch center. Knable used the incident as an example of why one dispatch center is needed.

Another reason for a merger, Knable said, is more streamlined communication between City Police and the Floyd County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Frank Loop was quoted in the same story in support of the merger. "New Albany has an entirely different operating system," he said. "We can talk to them if we switch channels. But if we had the same call center, dispatchers would know what was going on because they would be sitting on top of each other. Now we don't have a clue what the other is doing."

The Floyd County Commissioners also expressed their support of the notion, discussing the idea during their March 6 meeting.

On Friday, Bailey said a call to 911 did not occur as Knable portrayed it, and that the department's communication works.

"... [Knable] said he made a 911 call from his cellular device, but this call was answered by the sheriff's center. Knable's claim was that a small child was crying and an alarm was sounding," Bailey said. "His specific claim was 45 seconds were lost because of a call being routed to the county center and had his situation been an actual emergency, that public safety would have been jeopardized.

"After an extensive investigation into this specific claim, which included inspections of 911 calls at the time and conversations with President Knable, himself, we learned President Knable never made a 911 call as he previously claimed."

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Bailey went on to say that there is no record of an alarm, fire or burglary at the location in question.

In an interview following the news conference, Knable maintained there was a call made, but said he believed the error was on his end, not a result of the two dispatch centers. Knable said he did make a call, and turned over his phone records to the chief of police to prove it, but he used Siri to do so. As Knable explains it, he has the New Albany Police Department's tip line saved in his phone under "911/NAPD," so when he instructed Siri to call 911, the virtual phone assistant called the wrong line.

By the time he hung up from the tip line, he had assessed the situation and helped the young child, who had been scared and screaming "fire" and "help," said Knable, adding at that point he realized it wasn't an emergency. He said he did not make claims of an alarm sounding.

Knable contends Bailey's focus on the anecdote is a distraction from the bigger conversation, merging the two centers and "making sure the taxpayers have the safest, most-efficient system out there."

"I'm looking to get the chief of police, sheriff, mayor and commissioners to the table," Knable said.

Bailey, however, also asserts that merging the two dispatch centers is both unnecessary and political. He pointed to Indiana Senate Bill 67, legislation proposed this year that would have distributed funds based on call volume.

"It is our belief, because of the funding loss that they will sustain, it is the reason for them to push this at this point in time," the police chief said. The bill passed in the Senate, but did not make it to a House vote before the session ended earlier this month.

Bailey also said the department did a two-week internal investigation and found there were "no functional problems pertaining to New Albany 911."

The different radio frequencies, as described by Loop, is a non-issue to Bailey.

"It's a matter of a twist of a button to talk to them," Bailey said. "But you know everything going on all the time. If a call is taken in at either 911 center, it's an easy push of a button to transfer to the other center in the event somebody needs help."

Bailey believes the two centers are necessary because, in the case of a natural disaster, there would be a back-up to take over and dispatch for the entire community.

"You can rest assured knowing your emergency services, should you need them, are capable of responding to any emergency that arises," he said.

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