Longboat dispatch switch ‘far from over’

Editor & Publisher

Closing Longboat Key’s Police Dispatch after decades of personalized service to residents and relying on Sarasota County to fulfill that critical role may not be a done deal despite a recent commission consensus.

At a town workshop two weeks ago, five of six commissioners raised their hand in support of moving all dispatch to Sarasota County, even though Police Chief Pete Cumming said it would come at a loss to the personalized service Longboat has come to know.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor is adamant that he does not want to see the island lose control of that aspect of the police operation and said the issue is not over. Perhaps most importantly is a decision handed down by the state that Commissioner Pat Zunz does not have to recuse herself from any discussion about the issue.

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale in a memo told commissioners on Friday, April 3 that Zunz can participate in the discussion, but cannot formally vote, on any changes in dispatch. She sat silent at the meeting two weeks ago when the decision to move dispatch was made because her son unbeknownst to her at the time, had applied for a job as a town dispatcher and she sought clearance from the State before weighing in on the discussion. Now that Zunz is free to talk on the matter, she said there are many questions that remain unanswered and the decision was reached after far too short a discussion for such an important issue.

Zunz said she attended several meetings with Sarasota and Manatee County when proposals were made by each entity to handle Longboat Key’s dispatch. She said in fact, she attended all of the meetings and has “a lot of problems with Longboat Key giving up control of its dispatch operation.”

Zunz continued, “This is a small, intensely developed community and residents rely on being able to communicate with the Fire and Police Department and it has served them well. My concern is we need updated equipment that allows communication between the fire and police department. I am not thrilled with giving up control to Sarasota or Manatee County and my overarching concern is to make our dispatch as good as it can possibly can be.”

Zunz said that what she has learned is there is a lot of turnover in 911 centers and in dispatch operations in general. She says that if a dispatcher gets a call in Sarasota County or Manatee County and the caller says they are at the tennis center, the dispatcher will likely not know immediately where that location is. Conversely, a Longboat Key trained dispatcher knows exactly the nuanced geography of the island.

“I see no reason why the discussion over this issue should not go on. I am continuing to do research and I’m talking to various people and doing all my homework and there are a lot of questions for which I do not have the answers, and I do not want someone’s particular answer,” said Zunz.

Zunz worries that because it is such a hectic time of year, residents and taxpayers do not yet realize what they could lose and will not get back if the police dispatch goes away.

Zunz said as she gains new information, she will ask for the issue to be raised again and hopes a more satisfactory resolution can be reached.


Police Chief not convinced

Police Chief Pete Cumming said under the scenario the commission is pursuing, he is concerned what Sarasota County would do with the non-emergency calls generated by residents. In fact, non-emergency calls are the vast majority of the situations the police department responds to throughout the year. Cumming says currently those calls are immediately dispatched and a Longboat Key dispatcher stays on the line with the caller as well as the officer. He worries that they will go behind emergency calls in Sarasota County and will not be immediately dispatched and will be placed into a cue.

Cumming said whatever decision is made, the community will be well served but “What is important to me is to provide the best I can provide to the community here. I was brought to the key to do the best I can and I want to keep dispatch on Longboat Key so we can control it and ensure a top level of service.”

Cumming added that when the 316-1977 Police Department non-emergency number is called, residents will be talking to someone at the police department and another layer in transferring the call to Sarasota County Dispatch will not be added.

Part of what swayed the commission two weeks ago to move the police dispatch to Sarasota County was the desire by Fire Chief Paul Dezzi to streamline Fire and EMS calls by going to Sarasota instead of being dispatched by Manatee County where Fire and EMS is currently served. Today, Manatee County handles the Fire calls, but relays back all police non-emergencies.

Part of what is being examined is whether the system can be set up where Fire is dispatched by Sarasota County and the Police Dispatch can remain on Longboat Key. This action may require Sarasota County agreeing to relay, much as Manatee County does today, Police calls back to Longboat Key.

It is uncertain whether Zunz, Cumming or Pastor will be successful in their desire to retain Police Dispatch on the key, but the issue appears far from over.

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2 Responses for “Longboat dispatch switch ‘far from over’”

  1. Jeff Goss says:

    First of all, can LBK afford to kept dispatch on LBK, I think so. Second, you need to compare technology between both counties. Manatee is upgrading there system so cell phones, texts, e-mails can be traced as to the location. There is a reason that the Fire department went away from LBK’s dispatch. Most likely 80% of Police calls are service calls or what has justified even having a Police Department, responding to Fire-Rescue calls. I would keep the LBK dispatching the Police and find out what county is best for the Fire Department.

  2. Catherine Strauss says:

    I think the dispatch should stay on Longboat for the very reason my family has bought there, familiarity,

    It’s nice to know there are certain things we can count on, and having police and fire at the resident’s disposal, is a huge comfort.

    Outsourcing to a place where the people may not know the island could delay in getting immediate attention in an emergency situation.

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