News


Palo Alto to share dispatch with Mountain View, Los Altos

Three cities eye 'virtual consolidation' of public-safety functions to cut costs, improve efficiency

An effort by Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos police departments to integrate their respective dispatch services is expected to take a step forward Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, when the Palo Alto City Council considers approving 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.

The 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."

The council's vote Tuesday 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.

If Palo Alto and Los Altos were to approve the agreement, the hardware and software would 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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Great idea.

It should be increased for all of northern Santa Clara County.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Public safety and crime trends are a regional issue. It only makes sense to approach the matter with a joint, regional strategy. It sounds like vital information about shared problems and crimes will be more streamlined and efficient, as well as increase cooperation amongst participating agencies. All good stuff. It's only a matter of time before the departments themselves join forces entirely for all the same reasons. Seems like a good way to keep our law enforcement personnel on the same page, as well as providing a means of cost cutting at least at the upper management level. It could eliminate or at least reduce the need for multiple chiefs and department heads across the board. It's good to see our local agencies looking ahead and planning for the future.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2012 at 6:38 pm

So, does this mean more loss of jobs?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm

At the dispatcher level, it could mean an eventual reduction of positions. That seems to be the cycle, and one of the relative advantages of consolidation. If they operate from one central command center however, I suspect they would still need a few more dispatchers to track officers from three separate cities as opposed to the current set-up of a group of dispatchers allocated to just one agency. We also have to remember that the dispatchers not only cover police and fire communications, but also all the public utilities, park rangers, etc. I could envision some change in staffing levels, but again, I think most of the cuts would be made at the upper management level.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Time to be thinking about sharing fire depts too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

Good point Alex. A consolidation of fire services would be a much smoother path in my opinion than the police function. Fire departments share a common task, but not necessarily shared problems and issues like a police department has to deal with. The function of the fire department is primarily to manage fire prevention and hazards, responding to fires, natural disasters, and medical assistance calls. Generally these tasks are the same from city to city. For the fire department it's all about having their assets, personnel, and coverage on the ready. The inter-agency requirements have more to do with assistance and support during a large scale event, and not necessarily having to cope with a regional problem that crosses over jurisdictions.

As for the police departments, it's absolutely vital to have efficient and timely communications amongst agencies. The criminals aren't bound to jurisdictions, and neither should the ability of the police to access common intelligence information. A crime trend in Mountain View or Los Altos may have ties to other surrounding cities. Important pieces of information and evidence can be analyzed and compared in a joint effort to apprehend the criminal. The more information that is taken in and qualified will give the police their best chance to solve crimes.

It's also important for the police to have joint communication to deal with the myriad of in-progress activity that happens all the time. If Palo Alto officers are dealing with an in-progress call or pursuing someone near the Mountain View border, the officers in Mountain View need to hear what's happening real time and not after a delay in relaying information. I'm quite sure that minutes and even seconds are absolutely vital in the pursuit of a criminal. This would definitely provide the police with a communications process that collectively gives them the best chance for success.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2012 at 3:59 pm

MV and PA FDs already the large ladder trucks and other equipment. Would not take much more to continue the trend.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ban
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

People will lose their job. Just wait and see. The problem is the Cities do not care what "WE think, Citizens" Citizens pay taxes don't we.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Art
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm

> So, does this mean more loss of jobs?

Here in California, there is one person on government (state/county/municipal/education) for every 7 workers. At the Federal level, there is now one Social Security recipient for every two workers.

Virtually every level of government is showing budget deficits, with well over 1T in unfunded pension liabilities for state/municipal workers.

It is imperative that governments around the country downsize. Better to see this necessary downsizing as a reduction in staffing levels and a loss of jobs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Art
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Last sentence should read:

It is imperative that governments around the country downsize. Better to see this necessary downsizing as a reduction in staffing levels rather than a loss of jobs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown man
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

I had to call 911 yesterday when a driver crunched my car by turning
illegally right when I was in that lane. Turns out the Palo Alto police do not respond to accidents that don't involve bodily injury!
I saw patrol cards drifting by (it was a holiday, streets were quiet.) So we have dispatchers to tell us out accident isn't deemed police worthy. This wouldn't happen in towns in New England, for example. But here, police can't be bothered.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 21, 2012 at 11:38 am

Opportunities for regional cooperation must be pursued for all functions of government.

This is the right direction. It is a citizen mandate that our Cities spend less on municipal services. We have no choice but to reduce cost, so if we can maintain or enhance service levels at a lower cost, then this action will carry with it the enthusiastic endorsement of all residents.

Let's find more opportunities.

Tim Gray


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Sounds like a great idea. This kind of consolidation could be a step towards improving police services for all concerned.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by gene786
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Midtown man: re: "Turns out the Palo Alto police do not respond to accidents that don't involve bodily injury!

I saw patrol cards drifting by (it was a holiday, streets were quiet.) So we have dispatchers to tell us out accident isn't deemed police worthy. This wouldn't happen in towns in New England, for example. But here, police can't be bothered."

The policy has been in place for many years. And I support it because the issues between you and the other driver involves only property damage and fault, matters which will be settled between insurance companies. It need not involve city government.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FortheRecord
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm

@Midtown Man, your information is incorrect....the Palo Alto Police Dept. still responds to fender bender crashes (Mountain View PD does not). I was involved in a fender bender recently and a very nice PA motor cop took a report.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm

A great first step in providing regional safety service. But more needs to be done.

When an earthquake hits that is stronger than the 1989 Loma Prieta one, the present City Hall police dept. can be crushed and lose up to 3/4 of its patrol cars and ancillary equipment - not to mention loss of life and trained personnel. In such case Palo Alto won't be able to bear its share of the load.

Support any investment in public safety by building a Public Safety Bldg. that will withstand a strong regional earthquake. Only in this way will fire, dispatch and police services be able to respond to the emergency.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm

To "by George"

Yes, we need a new Public Safety building... but it MUST be shared by several communities in our area. "Palo Alto Only" concept is unacceptable.

Let's cooperate and all enjoy greater safety and less cost.

Tim Gray


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Man
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

To: [For The Record] poster. How can I be incorrect when I'm telling you exactly what 911 told me when I called for assistance during a slow holiday morning? Maybe if I lived in Crescent Park, would get me a "very nice motor cop"?

To: [gene 786]- Say my house is broken into and property stolen:
as you would have it, that's just a private matter between me and the insurance company? Is that what you wish for?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sensible
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Midtown Man. What you cite is a felony, a crime requiring a police response. A car accident where there is no hit and run or DUI or other higher level crime is an infraction. Apples and oranges.


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