GREENBELT — The Greenbelt Police Department hopes to start streamlining non-emergency calls by implementing a new automated system.
Currently, the city police department has a limited communications staff that Interim Police Chief Thomas Kemp said is responsible for answering both emergency and non-emergency calls.
“We normally have just two dispatchers on duty, and right now they’re answering both the emergency and non-emergency line.
In doing that, that could take away their focus is someone is calling for an emergency,” he said. “They’re multitasking. They’re up to the task, they’re professionals, they’re wonderful at what they do.
“I would put our communications specialist against any in the county – they way they multitask and the professional way they go about their business, but the situation is that emergencies have to take priority.”
The police department brought its proposal before the Greenbelt City Council on Jan. 8 and provided the council with a brief demonstration of the beta system.
The proposal was met with both curiosity and hesitation, and the council debated the merits of the system for a little more than a half an hour.
Kemp said the police brought the proposal before council because the new systems will give the city’s communications specialist the ability to better manage the call load.
Currently, all calls – emergency or not – come to one line where the specialists take information needed to reroute the calls to the correct destination.
“This process can take the needed focus away from emergency police calls for service,” the agenda item reads. “The new enhanced system will allow callers to input their responses from their telephone keypad. “This will allow the system to route the call in a more efficient manner thus allowing the communications specialist to concentrate on emergency situations from another phone line, the police radio or citizen contact window.”
When the new trial system begins when a resident calls the (301) 474-7200 non-emergency line, they will be greeted with six options for their call, the first of which is to be routed to the emergency line.
The second option is the non-emergency line, while other options will take the caller to the records department, the chief’s office, and the criminal investigations unit.
The phone number will stay the same, and the emergency number will not be affected at all.
Kemp and City Manager Nicole Ard said they believe this new process will not only keep emergency lines free but increase both response times to emergencies and to addressing non-emergencies.
“The only way it would impact (response times) is improve it,” Kemp said. “It would allow our dispatchers to handle the emergency call with less distractions to get our officers to emergencies quickly and it would allow, most likely, would get the people with the non-emergency matters to the people they want quicker.
The new system also comes at no cost to the city with a built-in probationary period, which Councilman Colin Byrd said he appreciated.
While feedback to the proposal started off with curiosity, as council members asked how the new system would work, it turned quickly to uncertainty after a resident voiced his overwhelming distaste for automated systems.
Councilman Rodney Roberts said he does not want the city to move toward automated systems.
“Personally I’m not in favor of people calling and getting a machine because I call many places and get machines and I find it nothing but frustrating,” he said. “It’s not acceptable to me with any city department.”
However, Kemp emphasized the automated system is an industry standard and is utilized by several municipalities throughout the area with the exception of Hyattsville, which still uses live dispatchers for non-emergencies.
But Councilman Byrd also voiced reservations with the change, especially with the knowledge that the city of Hyattsville does not use an automated system.
Mayor Emmett Jordan on the other hand, said he would like to see the new system move forward on a trial basis, to allow time for the system to get working and for the public to feedback.
Byrd also suggested allowing the community to provide feedback during the next election with a community survey question on the ballot.
That, however, is where the agreements ended as Byrd made a proposal to temporarily “block” the system from moving forward.
Roberts supported the motion, but Jordan and Councilwoman Leta Mach opposed, resulting in a tie and the failure of the motion. Jordan then moved to have the system move forward on a trial basis, but that motion too ended in a tie and failure.
Then, Jordan noted the council likely did not have to vote on measure, as it was a briefing and not an action item.
Ard noted that while the idea was brought forward for feedback, it came from the police about how they can better serve the community and it is under their prevue.