911 Dispatch laptop

In September, Jefferson County 911 Dispatch posted this photo on Facebook showing a delivery of laptop computers.

Jefferson County 911 Dispatch has spent $856,904 to buy 344 mobile data terminals, which will be distributed to several of the police, fire and ambulance agencies 911 serves.

Those devices, which are basically sturdy laptops, should improve response time, 911 Chief Travis Williams said.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office previously purchased 166 of the laptops, which cost about $2,491 each, and 911 Dispatch will reimburse the Sheriff’s Office for those devices. That $413,506 reimbursement will come out of the $856,904 expenditure, Williams said.

The Sheriff’s Office bought its laptops from Turn-Key Mobile of Jefferson City, after requesting proposals from companies that sell them, so 911 Dispatch was able to use those same proposals and selected the same vendor, Williams said.

“What this mobile data terminal will do – emergency responders will be able to see the CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system in their vehicles,” Williams said. “They’ll be able to see the information from calls for service, including caller comments. One of the other benefits is it allows 911 dispatchers to see where all officers and other emergency responders are and will be able to dispatch the closest units to the location.

“It allows us to make more updates based on specific information. Before, we had officers more or less covering a district. If the officers were already on another call, another officer would need to be located. This is more of an automatic response because we know where all the officers are. The same for fire and ambulance.”

The 911 Dispatch agency serves every emergency response organization in the county, except the Festus and Pevely police departments, which have their own dispatching systems.

Williams said most of the agencies 911 serves are receiving the new mobile data terminals.

“The police departments receiving the terminals are Byrnes Mill, Hillsboro, the Jefferson College campus police and the Dunklin R-5 School District Police,” Williams said. “They’re the law-enforcement agencies that use our new CAD system. All of the county fire agencies and ambulance districts are receiving them.”

He said the two law enforcement agencies served by 911 Dispatch that will not receive the monitors are the Arnold and Herculaneum police departments, which both have a different CAD system.

Sheriff’s Office Capt. Gary Higginbotham said it is too early to statistically compare the response times using the new CAD system and devices versus the old ones, but initial impressions are positive.

“We got 150 of (the devices) in June 2019 and the rest this year,” Higginbotham said. “We don’t have numbers yet – we’ve just switched over to this CAD system earlier this year.

“It just makes us more efficient. Say we’re checking a license plate. Before, we’d have to call dispatch to run a plate. Now, the information is at our fingertips.”

While the Sheriff’s Office already has its 166 mobile terminals in place, 911 Dispatch is in the process of readying the other 178 devices for the other agencies.

“We’ve been programming them,” Williams said. “We’ve just started distributing the ones for everyone except the Sheriff’s Office.”

When county voters agreed in April 2019 to extend the 1/2-cent sales tax 911 collects (rather than reducing it to 1/4 cent as was called for when the tax was approved in 2009), it allowed the agency to upgrade its CAD system, Williams said

“We are able to do this because we have the funding to do it,” he said. “Some of the larger agencies would have been able to do it on their own. Some would not have been able to afford it. In order to make it work for everybody, 911 is paying for (the devices).

“This is a project we had promised to people when we asked them to reauthorize the 1/2-cent sales tax.”

Litigation calling into question the legality of extending 911’s sales tax has not been resolved.

However, Williams said 911 Dispatch officials remain confident the case will go in their favor.

A virtual hearing on the case is scheduled for Nov. 24, he said.