Cale: dispatch center not critical safety need

An emergency UNA police beacon overlooks the visitor parking lot on campus. Plans for a new police dispatch center, which had funding approved for its construction last year, have been put on hold due to a lack of critical need.

Plans to incorporate a police department dispatch center on campus have been put on hold by university officials until funding becomes available.

The initial proposal for the center was presented to the Strategic Planning and Budget committee earlier this spring. The committee approved funding for the center and sent the final request to President William Cale for approval.

Funding was not approved at the current time because Cale said he felt the need for a dispatch center on campus was not critical enough.

“There’s not enough of a critical need,” Cale said. “If I thought that safety was the issue, that would have changed my entire thought process.”

The university police currently receive emergency calls via cell phone, and the calls also roll over to the Florence Police Department, said David Shields, vice president for student affairs.

Cell phone reception can be spotty in some areas on campus, but it has not proven to be a major issue yet, Shields said.

“This center is just an enhancement to our current system,” Shields said. “Without it, we can still get calls and take care of emergencies.”

Director of University Police Bob Pastula said the university is not more at risk than it already is.

“We’re not at risk any more than we have been with calls not going through,” Pastula said. “Even if students can’t get through, they can call 911 and those calls will go through.”

Pastula said the dispatch center is just part of a larger plan.

“As much as technology is good, I would like to have someone actually answering the phone and addressing the needs of the community,” Pastula said. “The dispatch center is part of our overall plan to solidify security around campus and make it as comprehensive as we can.”

Long-term funding to provide paychecks for students working in the dispatch center is what the university is currently waiting on, Shields said.

“Money is available for everything except positions,” Shields said. “We’d be hiring anywhere from 12 to 13 part-time student workers. We have the short-term funding for software and training, because it’s a one-time cost, unlike paychecks.”

Funding was needed in other areas on campus and will be reconsidered after enrollment for the semester is finalized and classes settle, Shields said.

The request for the center is among those that are worthy, but not practical for the university at this time, Cale said.

“We’re still losing close to $1 million this year after appropriation,” Cale said. “I didn’t want to raise tuition even more to fund this, because if tuition goes up, our Bluecross Blueshield insurance goes up, utilities go up and scholarships go up.

“It is among requests that are worthy, but not necessary within the next year. It is still certainly something we want to do, and we haven’t set it aside. It’s just been put on hold.”

Shields said the same.

“We’re just in a holding pattern right now,” Shields said. “The idea and plans haven’t been completely eliminated.”