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Muskego police dispatch center gets $200,000 equipment upgrade

County will still handle cell emergency calls

Dec. 28, 2006

While residents of Muskego may not be able to tell the difference when they dial 911, the Police Department recently updated its dispatch center with $200,000 in new equipment.

Some of the old equipment had parts that were starting to become unreliable and were becoming more difficult to replace, according to officials.

The purchase was also made with some political considerations.

When the Common Council approved the upgrade, it wanted to keep its options open: either continue to have the county handle 911 calls originating from cell phones or bypass Waukesha County's dispatch system.

Currently, the city only answers 911 calls originating from landlines. The new system will allow police to handle 911 calls from cell phone users just by implementing some software.

Chiefs want law changed

The issue has been a source of bad blood with larger communities in the county because it decided to keep all of the money the state collects from cell phone users to help fund its central dispatch system, which serves all dispatch needs for many small communities.

Mayor John Johnson, who just retired as Muskego's police chief, said each time a 911 call originates from a cell phone it takes longer to respond to the emergency. That's because the call goes through the county dispatch system and then is patched to Muskego via a landline, making the response time longer.

"In the past, the chiefs of the departments of these public service answering points (the cities who can receive 911 calls on landlines) have argued that the county dispatch system is not in our best interest to have because they may not be able to handle a large disaster," Johnson said. "That's because, say we had a tornado in Muskego, they wouldn't be able to handle all of those cell phone calls coming into the system and handle all of the landline calls at the same time."

Although Muskego could handle 911 calls coming from cell phones, the city is choosing not to at this time because under state law the county board decides which communities should receive money from cell phone companies. Johnson said the chiefs of the communities that have their own independent systems have banned together to see if they can get that law changed.

Upgrade improves reliability

Meanwhile, the system, which went live last week, allows for growth, said John La Tour, operations division commander for the Muskego Police Department.

"This system is as good, if not better than what we had," La Tour said. "But one thing is clearly better, the reliability of the system. We had some manual type switches on the board that were becoming unreliable. We wanted to replace them, but some of those parts were no longer available."

The new system is a full upgrade of all the dispatch equipment. Currently, the system has two switchboards, but only one is typically staffed unless there is an emergency that requires two people.

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