A second consultant also has determined that the public safety agencies that use the Stanislaus Regional 911 Center are concerned about the quality of service, staffing levels and what they pay the center.
The Joint Powers Authority that operates the center hired the Matrix Consulting Group several months ago to review center operations and other issues. Stanislaus County and Modesto formed the center in 1999. The center’s workers are county employees, but its directors have come from the city and county, and the commission that oversees the center includes city and county officials.
The center provides dispatch services for all fire and law enforcement agencies in the county except for the California Highway Patrol, the Newman, Oakdale and Ceres police departments, and the Turlock police and fire departments. The center dispatched for Newman until that agency left in January over concerns about the cost of the service. Oakdale now dispatches Newman police officers.
The Matrix report comes on the heels of a study by Jackman Associates. Modesto police Chief Galen Carroll commissioned the initial study, which concluded the Police Department is not getting its money’s worth from the center because of ineffective senior leadership, a demoralized and confused workforce and out-of-control employee costs. It recommends the department leave the dispatch center.
County leaders blasted the 53-page Jackman study as one-sided, inaccurate and inflammatory. The 175-page Matrix study has a neutral tone, a deeper analysis and recommendations on how to fix problems and strengthen Stanislaus Regional. It says any decision by Modesto to leave would be premature.
The Matrix study cost $50,000, split between the city and county. Carroll has said the Jackman study was not to cost more than $49,000.
“The Matrix Consulting Group has done an excellent job in providing us a foundation of factual information and creative recommendations to consider for the future of SR 911,” county Assistant Executive Officer Jody Hayes said in an email. “We see no value in contrasting this report with the prior study, however any reader of both reports will note the obvious and clear difference in approach and conclusions.”
But the Matrix study clearly raises concerns, and some of them mirror the Jackman study. For instance, the consultants wrote:
“The evidence is compelling there is a customer service issue. These perceptions must be addressed. No business, dispatch or otherwise, can survive long-term when less than 50 percent of its customers agree that service quality is high and service levels are consistent. Therefore, it is important for SR911 to address the staffing, operational and customer services issues noted in this report for long-term survivability.”
Modesto costs could rise
The report states it’s critical that Stanislaus Regional 911 address Modesto’s concerns, in part because some of them are shared by other agencies and because Modesto is the center’s biggest customer. The city is expected to pay about $4 million for police and fire dispatch services in the current fiscal year.
Another critical issue is that as part of the reforms Matrix recommends, Modesto could pay several hundred thousand dollars more annually in a formula to more equitably distribute the dispatch center’s costs. In any event, Modesto could not leave soon. The Jackman study said the earliest departure would be 2019.
Matrix officials are expected to present their report at Wednesday’s Stanislaus Regional 911 commission meeting. The meeting is at 1 p.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.
Here are some of the key findings from the report:
▪ There is a gulf between how dispatch center employees view their performance vs. how its public safety customers view it. For instance, a survey of center employees showed 92 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “Our dispatch center provides a high level of service to our public safety partners and the community.” A survey of public safety employees showed 45 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “SR911 provides a high quality service to the personnel in my agency.” Thirty-three percent disagreed, 21 percent were neutral and 1 percent had no opinion.
▪ The center has too many dispatchers and not enough call takers, who answer the phones. This has led to dispatchers answering phones, taking them away from their primary duties. It also has led to frustration among public safety workers and the public. “Operational changes need to be explored to address the current workload imbalances,” the consultants wrote. They recommend eliminating the four full-time call taker positions and increasing the number of full-time dispatch positions from 38 to 44 and having dispatchers answer the phones and dispatch.
▪ The consultants recommend other personnel changes, including having a civilian serve as the center’s director instead of bringing in sworn city and county public safety officials to serve as director. A civilian director would have served as a dispatcher and would have greater knowledge and experience of the emergency dispatch industry.
▪ The compensation for dispatchers is, at a minimum, generous. The Modesto Bee reported last year that the average pay for a full-time dispatcher in 2013 was $75,876, which included salary, overtime and incentive pay. The report says the Stanislaus center’s operating costs are high. For instance, the average annual operating cost per dispatcher is $233,289 for Stanislaus, while the average is $170,371 for the peer agencies of Fresno, Monterey, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties.
▪ The center uses complex, difficult-to-understand models to apportion costs among the agencies that use the center. It needs to develop a model that all of its member agencies see as fair. That could be problematic, because the model the consultants recommend would increase Modesto’s annual cost by several hundred thousand dollars.
The consultants write that while controlling costs is important, it is paramount Stanislaus Regional improve its “perceived level of service” to its customers and adopt the dispatch industry’s best practices. The consultants recommend that any agency considering leaving conduct its due diligence to determine how much alternative dispatch services would cost.
Stanislaus Regional Emergency Dispatchers Association President Ronda Bell said she understands there are customer service concerns. But she said it’s not because of the professionalism and work of the center’s dispatchers and call takers.
“I think we are doing a good job,” she said. “But the workload is greater than anyone can handle. But I’m immensely proud of the skill and grace and compassion of my co-workers.”
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.