Benton, Franklin county to discuss merging 911 dispatch centers Aug. 5

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldJuly 14, 2014 

Officials in Benton and Franklin counties plan to discuss consolidating dispatch centers at a meeting early next month.

Merging 911 dispatch centers in both counties has been talked about for several years and finalizing an interlocal agreement is the next step to consolidation. Currently, Benton and Franklin counties operate on different 911 systems.

Law enforcement officials around the Tri-Cities have expressed frustration recently, saying the separate systems place citizens' and officers' lives at risk.

Those risks were exposed during a fatal standoff last week in Pasco where a suspect fired more than 60 rounds at officers and inside his home. Benton County agencies couldn't communicate with Pasco police as they were arriving on scene and some officers ended up in the line of fire, said Bob Metzger, Pasco police chief.

A Kennewick officer was nearly shot as Rick Howard, who was later killed by a SWAT team member, opened fire.

"Normally if we are on the same system we can listen and figure out where to stage, where to set up," Metzger said. "They had none of that. They were basically coming over here blind."

A five-member steering committee comprised of two county commissioners and city managers from Kennewick, Richland and Pasco will review the agreement at an Aug. 5 meeting, said Brad Peck, Franklin County commissioner. A consultant hired with state funds has been working on a business plan for consolidation since last year.

Peck is hopeful the plan will satisfy the needs of both counties and the three cities, he said. Once the plan is agreed upon, officials will try and secure funding from the state and form a technology advisory committee.

"My view is that it should be fairly close to a final document at this point," he said.

Metzger emphasized that last week's standoff is not the first time there has been communication problems between agencies. There are issues with every joint operation, he said.

"All law enforcement should be on the same system," Metzger said. "We rely on each other for support. We have been talking about this for 10 years and we need to get it done."

Officials want to make sure the plan is comprehensive and meets the needs of both counties and the cities before moving forward, said Shon Small, Benton County commissioner.

"This is tens of millions of dollars and we want to make sure we make a very wise and methodical decision," he said.

Not everyone in law enforcement agrees that the process is moving along slowly.

Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim told the Herald that other law enforcement officials have political motivations for pushing the issue of consolidation. He favors consolidation, but wants to stay on his current radio system, he said.

"The issue is Chief Metzger and (Richland) Chief (Chris) Skinner are using this to bolster Jim Raymond's campaign against me," he said. "That's what this is all about. They are trying to discredit me."

Raymond, a captain in the Pasco police department, is running against Lathim in the upcoming election for county sheriff.

The type of system for the potential new dispatch center has yet to be decided.

-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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