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Fixing 911 not about power or money

Ironton Police Chief Jim Carey has been part of the talks for years, a conversation that has made varying degrees of progress.

Carey has done his homework to determine what his department would need to do. He has seen plans and offered ideas and envisioned how it would work.

Then, because of politics or money or other hurdles that often trip up government progress, consolidating Lawrence County’s emergency service dispatching has never happened.

But, finally, the tide may be turning in favor of a much-needed change that will increase efficiency and potentially save lives.

Carey says the cooperation between the IPD, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, 911 and other agencies may be at an all-time high, making now the perfect time for a merger.

“If it doesn’t happen now, it likely won’t happen,” he said.

It won’t be easy and it likely won’t make everyone happy but consolidating Lawrence County’s emergency services dispatching needs to happen and it needs to happen now.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the people on the front line of this.

Lonnie Best, director of the 911 office that has been cut back to basically him and a handful of dispatchers, is leading the way and has been pushing this for a long time.

Sheriff Jeff Lawless is on board as well, whether the agency falls under his office or becomes more of a stand-alone unit.

Everyone agrees that the current structure simply doesn’t make sense.

The City of Ironton has its own dispatching for the police department. The sheriff’s office does dispatching for its deputies and the village police departments. Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services dispatches itself. The 911 office dispatches for the fire departments and transfers calls to the other agencies.

Although the hurdles to making this happen are significant, the benefits make the effort worthwhile.

It simply doesn’t make sense to have three or four agencies doing essentially the same thing. Plus, the time it takes to contact the right agency and get help on the way may be the difference between life and death.

The volunteer committee appointed to analyze the merger met last week for the first time. Having long advocated for this change, I felt obligated to serve on it when I was asked.

The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. April 13 at the 911 office. It is open to the public.

Initially, I was concerned that this was simply a political ploy or token effort but those fears seem to be unfounded.

I feel that those involved truly want to see this happen because it is the right thing to do. Ultimately, the hope is this increased efficiency will create savings that can be used to put more road officers in the field.

Some critics have said Lawless simply wants to get more funding from the county’s half-cent sales tax.

Although I am sure he would admit he could use more funding, that isn’t his motivation here. Lawless has said he is fine if this would be under a stand-alone entity as long as he had some input. This means he would actually have less staff if some dispatchers were part of 911.

During this process, it is likely that some people will be upset by potential changes that will be discussed but I hope everyone keeps an open mind and understands this isn’t about money or power or politics.

This change is about ensuring a critical service functions as well as it can and that no one ever has to lose their life because they called the wrong number for help.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.