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Posted on Sat. Mar. 08, 2014 - 12:16 am EDT

Steuben official denies 911 center crisis

If you go

What: Public meeting to decide whether Steuben County Communications, now under jurisdiction of county commissioners, should instead be division of sheriff’s department

Where: Commissioners’ meeting room, Community Center, 317 S. Wayne St., Angola

When: 9 a.m. Monday

Commissioners: Loretta Smart, north district; James Crowl, middle district; Ronald Smith, south district

Steuben County law enforcement wants control of the county’s 911 call center delegated to the sheriff’s department.

The communications department is under the management of the three county commissioners. But they have done nothing to resolve a critical lack of manpower, direction and resources that place the public in a potentially dangerous situation, Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer said.

Troyer and others, including Angola Police Chief Stu Hamblen and Prosecutor Michael Hess, think the commissioners should relinquish control and turn the center back over to the sheriff’s department.

The Steuben County Communications Center was under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department until 1992, when it was handed over to commissioners after a new jail was built.

“It was a result of space concerns,” Troyer said Thursday. “The sheriff (at that time) had collaboration with one of the commissioners, and the center was placed in a wing annex.”

But it’s time to give it back, Troyer said.

Dispatchers are working up to 16-hour shifts, and only three of the 12 full-time positions are filled, Troyer said. His department has been helping staff the center in light of the situation, he said.

“I had a deputy who worked (dispatch) Tuesday and was sick with a fever of 102 degrees but was afraid to go home,” Troyer said. The lack of staff has been an issue for the past year, he said.

“The situation is critical. We need to make sure we have the staff there to answer 911 calls,” Troyer said.

Other concerns, according to Troyer, include a multimillion-dollar radio system that has not performed up to standards; non-employees listening to 911 calls in dispatch; non-employees observing license plate returns and operating the radio system; lack of participation in critical, multijurisdictional emergency planning sessions; and employees quitting with no replacements hired for months.

Commissioners board President Ronald Smith said there is no truth to the allegations.

“The shifts are adequately covered; we are well-staffed and do not have a shortage,” he said.

“We are resolving this matter and were blindsided by all of this,” Smith said. “We are dismayed – this is not a crisis.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Cindy Snyder, longtime 911 director and former dispatcher, resigned Thursday. Snyder was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.

Although Smith confirmed Snyder’s resignation, the county has not been officially notified, he said, adding that Snyder had been negligent in her duties.

“There are 20 or more employment applications on her desk, which contributed to the staffing shortage,” Smith said. “We consider this to be negligence on the part of the director and assistant director.”

Explaining his contradicting statements involving personnel, Smith said the center has 10 employees “in process” at the 911 center.

“We have four full-time individuals, three new ones in training, three who are leaving to work in other departments and a couple leaving for other reasons,” he said.

After conducting an executive session Thursday, commissioners scheduled a public meeting Monday to decide the matter.

“My guess is that the communications center will remain with the commissioners,” Smith said, adding that he did not want to speculate on the outcome.

Another concern at the 911 center involves secured access to the Indiana Data and Communications Systems, a system used by law enforcement to obtain confidential information.

Hamblen, the police chief and a member of the Indiana Data and Communications Systems board, said unauthorized people should not be allowed access to IDACS information and that he supports the communications department being run by the sheriff’s department.

The information received from day-to-day law enforcement operations through the communications division is vital for the safe and effective operation of law enforcement, prosecutor Hess said.

“The dissemination of the information under the strict rules we must adhere to is best done by those responsible for its care, namely, law enforcement,” Hess said.

“I believe the sheriff’s department is in the best position to maintain and control the day-to-day operations of such critical information and communications.”

Troyer agreed.

“It compromises the integrity of the data,” Troyer said of the commissioners’ oversight. There have been instances of unauthorized county employees accessing the data, he said.

The commissioners simply do not have the law enforcement knowledge or resources necessary to oversee communications, Troyer said.

“It’s disastrous,” he said.

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