Police to implement new dispatch center by August

A constant ringing phone when calling the campus police department after hours is what UNA police Chief Bob Pastula is working to put a stop to.

With the recent university-wide switchover to AT&T, the system the university police department uses for calls is proving ineffective, Pastula said.

“Right now every officer has a radio, but the 911 calls are coming in on the cell phone, and that’s the weak link,” he said in a recent strategic meeting on campus.

During the March 21 Strategic Planning and Budget Study Committee meeting, Vice President for Student Affairs David Shields said there have been significant suicide attempts by students in the residence halls where they could not get through to the university police department because of the phone system issue the department is experiencing.

With the current system, when members of the community call either 911 or 765-HELP after police office hours, they are forwarded to the Lauderdale County Emergency Management office and then to the Florence Police Department’s dispatch center.

Once being transferred to the FPD dispatch center, the call is sent out to the university police department for response. After the call is sent to the university police department, the call is then forwarded to an on-duty officer who answers the call via cell phone.

During the budget committee meeting, Pastula said the female university student tried to call 911 and got the answering machine seven times.

The new dispatch center will be right next door to the university police department’s communication center, which will allow the department to communicate with the public better in a time of emergency.

“(The new dispatch center) gives us the opportunity to serve the community better by calls for assistance coming right in here and officers being able to send out Lion Alerts (to alert the community of an emergency),” Pastula said.

The committee approved the money needed to hire dispatchers who will man a proposed dispatch center in its March 21 meeting. Pastula said he hopes to have the dispatch center up and running by August of this year.

The new center will be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week by mostly part-time student workers, he said.

“This is all about keeping the community safe, keeping the officers safe and keeping the campus safe,” Shields said.

Shields said the new process will help the community by improving response time and the safety of the UNA officers when they are on duty.

Currently, when officers who work in the evening have to answer the phone, they are distracted and cannot give their full attention to what is going on around them, Shields said. With the new system, the officers will be able to pay close attention when performing traffic stops or are put in difficult situations, he said.

When the new dispatch center becomes fully operational, it can serve as a back-up location for the Lauderdale County EMA.

“If their center was to go down, they could come here and use our center to dispatch folks too,” Pastula said.