Pasco officers may be communicating using a new radio system by next year.
The Pasco City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to urge Kennewick, Richland, Benton County and Franklin County to join the city in forming a regional emergency communications system during 2012.
Pasco intends to have police officers switch to the 800 megahertz radio system Kennewick and Richland police use by the end of the year. Pasco fire would continue to use the very high frequency, or VHF, system.
Pasco police currently have problems communicating with officers using VHF radios and share a single frequency with all other Franklin County agencies, according to officials.
"This is not something that we should be delaying any longer," said Pasco City Councilman Saul Martinez.
The cities, counties and fire districts in Benton and Franklin counties have been discussing combining Franklin County's dispatch center and SECOMM, or Southeast Communications Center.
A recent consultant's study suggested joining the two dispatch centers and BIPIN, or the Bicounty Police Information Network, could save thousands of dollars and improve services.
Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said a draft interlocal agreement for the cities and counties to consider could be ready this spring and an agreement ready to approve this summer.
A representative from each of the cities and counties will need to work through how costs would be allocated and the governance structure, Crutchfield said.
With regionalization, 911 calls would be answered by at a single Public Safety Answering Point, said Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear. Operators would enter in the information from the callers during the conversation.
As soon as the operator inputs the event on the shared computer system, dispatchers in both counties would be able to see it and send out the appropriate units, as well as passing on any updates, he said.
That would eliminate the lost time while dispatchers process calls and if the call is sent to the wrong dispatch center, Crutchfield said.
About 3 percent to 5 percent of the 100,000 911 calls received by both dispatch centers each year go to the wrong dispatch center, Gear said.
The state plans to push for regionalization so that there are fewer Public Safety Answering Points to make future system improvements less expensive, Gear said. Dispatchers someday will be able to receive 911 text messages and video from cell phones.
There are not major technical challenges in joining dispatch operations, Gear said.
"We could go 'what if' forever," he said.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik said she would recommend moving forward, even if it would cost the city more money. However, it appears the city will actually save money with the proposed change, she said.
"There is no sense in paying for something that doesn't work very well at all," she said.
-- The city council unanimously approved hiring four new police officers. The positions will be paid for using some of the city's portion of the 0.3 percent public safety sales tax Franklin County voters approved in November.
The positions will allow the city to create a new street crimes unit of four experience officers.
-- The city council approved a $10,000 merit award for Crutchfield for 2011 in a 4-3 vote, with councilmen Bob Hoffmann, Al Yenney and Tom Larsen dissenting.
-- The monthly storm water fee will go up by 90 cents to $3.90 starting in February. The change will help cover the expense of current operating needs and minimal capital improvements and was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Larsen dissenting.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com