November 29, 2021 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.

All commissioners were present.

There was no one else present at the meeting besides myself and a bunch of employees from Camden County and the Sheriff’s Office. It was actually pretty surreal. I was sitting by myself among the right half of the meeting room chairs and the left half of the room was full of people. It was as if it was my own private Commission meeting.

The first agenda item was the Road and Bridge bid for the wing wall extension for Business Park Road. There were no bids on this project at a meeting about a month ago, so Road and Bridge solicited a quote from Clary Concrete. According to the Road and Bridge Administrator, this quote was $30,000 less than the bid they received for the project last year. I don’t think they said what the actual quote amount was, but I usually try to only blurt out questions sparingly so I shushed myself.

The commissioners approved the project quote unanimously.

The second agenda item was for the Enhanced 911 Dispatch for the Sheriff’s Office.

Captain Chris Moehle gave a presentation to the Commission and myself about their need for an enhanced 911 dispatch system for Camden County. Denise Gibbs was also present from Motorola.

According to Moehle, Camden County’s current dispatch system is obsolete. This year they dispatched 24,000 fire and police calls, but the current analog system isn’t able to dispatch calls for the ambulance districts. Instead, all of the ambulance calls have to be dispatched through Springfield.

This upgrade will allow Camden County 911 to detach a mobile terminal from the dispatch center and re-establish dispatch services at another location in the event that a natural disaster renders the courthouse inoperable. The 911 upgrade will streamline and unite all of Camden County’s dispatching systems into one single system that will service the entire county. This upgrade to a digital system will also save costs on maintenance. Parts aren’t even made anymore for Camden County’s current analog system and they have to be fabricated when needed for repairs.

In addition to being able to dispatch ambulances, the Enhanced 911 system is much better at locating where 911 cell phone calls are coming from. The current system can only identify the location of a 911 cellular caller within a range of 500 feet to 5 miles. The new system can locate a 911 cellular phone call within 5 feet. Captain Moehle mentioned that one of the biggest problems with the current system is that it sometimes takes deputies up to 30 minutes just to find the cell phone caller. This is exacerbated by the fact that many 911 callers are tourists who are out on the lake or unfamiliar with the areas they might be visiting.

According to the Auditor, Newton County recently paid for the same upgrade. It will cost $905,000 to upgrade Camden County’s dispatch center to the same standards that are currently being used statewide. This includes a $300,000 discount if Camden County signs a contract with Motorola before December 1. The CCSO was seeking a commitment of ARPA funds to purchase this upgrade. There will be a $80,000 per year maintenance and upgrade package that would provide for software and firmware upgrades, maintenance, and hard drive replacement every two years. Commissioner Gohagan started asking questions about the annual costs and Sheriff Helms confirmed that the annual cost would come from his LEST budget.

Commissioner Williams stated he had been hesitant about the price tag, but after he and Commissioner Gohagan sat through an earlier presentation about the system, he was convinced. He felt it was expensive but needed.

Apparently, the Camden County Sheriff’s Office has already purchased new digital radios, but they don’t work well with the current analog dispatch system. The signal has to be converted to be sent out digitally.

The Commissioners voted unanimously to approve this use of ARPA funds. The purchase will be funded on January 1, 2022.

The final agenda item was for the Food Banks. The Auditor asked the Commission to earmark $100,000 in ARPA funds for local food banks.

This was approved unanimously.

The Commission then voted to go into closed session for subsection #3 which I believe is for personnel matters.

And that was that.

I thought it was an excellent presentation even if I might have been the only person in the audience who didn’t work for the county. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office had its personnel there before the Commission to answer questions and explain why they needed the dispatch upgrade. They even had the vendor present to answer any technical and financial questions. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office should look to this as an example of how purchase requests should be presented before the Commission (I’m looking at you, crime scene laser scanner).

While the price tag may seem steep, it is really needed. Just to give you an idea of how old analog dispatch is, when I was a dumb rookie boot patrol officer for the LAPD in 1997, we had an integrated digital radio system. By 2001, we had computer-assisted dispatch which would track the location of all of our patrol vehicles and their driving speeds. Some of us didn’t like that last part, but it’s an excellent tool for risk management.

Emergency response times are one of those things that you usually don’t appreciate until you need to call for help. Better radio communication means improved officer safety for our law enforcement officers, easier mutual aid with surrounding agencies, encrypted transmissions so criminals can’t eavesdrop on radio transmissions with scanners, and most importantly, it makes sure the emergency responders can find you when you need them.

Even it only saves a few lives each year, it’s probably worth the money.

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