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Sheriff exploring new locale for 911

Current 911 director Lonnie Best will stay on in that capacity following the consolidation of the 911-dispatch operation with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

Now the challenge for the operation’s new boss, Sheriff Jeff Lawless, is to find a location for the newly created combined dispatching service.

On Thursday the Lawrence County Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to put the 911 dispatching under the jurisdiction of Lawless. Before the merger 911 was under the authority of Best.

“I am pleased Director Best has agreed to stay on and let us move this operation forward,” Lawless said.

Combining the two operations has been a long-discussed topic. With Ironton city officials declaring that Ironton Police dispatching will cease on June 30, the impetus for consolidation grew stronger over the past weeks. Ironton has yet to decide if the sheriff’s office will also take over those duties.

At its regular meeting Commissioner Bill Pratt brought the issue up to a vote despite objections from Commission President Les Boggs, who wanted the matter tabled for further discussion since it was not on the agenda. Pratt and Commissioner Freddie Hayes voted for the merger with Boggs voting against.

The goal now is to put sheriff and 911 dispatchers under one roof so the public only has to make a single phone call to get public safety services.

Right now there are two 911 dispatchers plus radio equipment in a narrow room at the Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters on Park Avenue and two dispatchers at the sheriff’s office in an even smaller room.

Lawless expects to have three dispatchers per shift, working around the clock with a fourth working peak hours. The sheriff is reviewing the possibility of expanding the 911 dispatch room 10 to 15 feet toward Park Avenue or the same footage into the hallway if that would be structurally safe.

“That doesn’t create a lot of space,” Lawless said. “If those options don’t work and the commissioners don’t come up with other options we could use the EOC (emergency operations command) room. It would be more cost effective to move them to a new building. There is a definite need as there is with the jail, but how do you afford it.”

Lawless anticipates the transition to take up to eight months. Besides finding a location for the dispatchers, Lawless will determine if all dispatchers can come under the same union. Right now the 911 operators are members of the Teamsters while the sheriff’s dispatchers are member of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“If not, could they sit side by side and perform the same duties in the same room?” he asked.

Best’s tenure with 911 dates back to 1996 when the operation started. He began as a part-time dispatcher and became director in 2007.

“I am going to stay on and do what my job is,” he said.