Public Policy Forum Blog

Consolidating dispatch operations in Milwaukee County's South Shore

Would an independent consolidated dispatch center better serve the communities of Cudahy, St. Francis, and South Milwaukee?  Our latest report finds that consolidating dispatch could produce substantial operating and equipment savings, as well as operational improvements, which include the ability to better coordinate responses to major incidents. It also indicates, however, that those potential advantages must be weighed against the current benefits for each city of solely controlling its dispatch operations and maintaining those operations at its own police headquarters.

Because dispatch personnel at the three police departments do far more than traditional dispatch activities, with additional duties ranging from parking administration, to background checks for liquor license review, to collecting bail on warrants, the report includes models that take into account the need for each government to cover those non-dispatch tasks.  

Key findings from the analysis include the following:
  • By consolidating their dispatch operations into an independent consolidated dispatch center, the three cities could reduce current collective annual operating expenditures by approximately $132,000 to $256,000, and produce equipment savings within the next five years of approximately $400,000 to $600,000.
  • If one of the three cities were to perform dispatch services under contract with the other two, or if the three cities contracted with a neighboring jurisdiction for dispatch services, then substantial additional savings could be generated. While the report focuses primarily on creation of an independent consolidated dispatch center, it suggests that contracting for dispatch services could be even more cost efficient because the three cities would not have to lease or purchase space, hire a dispatch center manager, and contract for back office support.
  • Potential cost savings must be weighed against loss of local control and the potential loss of 24-hour staffing at each city’s police headquarters. The report notes that the lack of on-site dispatchers may preclude 24-hour staffing at police stations, which some may argue would produce a decline in the level of police protection offered in each community.
  • If the three cities do not decide to pursue consolidation of their dispatch operations, then they may wish to at least review whether the administrative tasks assigned to dispatchers might be more appropriately assigned to clerical staff.

In the end, the question of whether to pursue an independent consolidated dispatch center – or to jointly contract for this service with a different jurisdiction – must be considered within the context of each city’s short-term and long-term financial circumstances and public safety needs.  An additional consideration is whether the cities may wish to pursue additional public safety consolidation, which may further dictate the logic of consolidating dispatch services. (Our analysis of the possibilities for shared or consolidated fire and emergency medical services in the South Shore will be released early in 2013.)

The report was funded by the three cities and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, with whom the Forum has partnered to facilitate an Intergovernmental Cooperation Council workgroup that is discussing shared services among Milwaukee County’s 19 municipal governments. In May, the Forum released a report on possible consolidated fire services in the five other southern Milwaukee County municipalities.

Rob Henken