Emergency purchase OKed for sheriff's office

A new communications dispatching console for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office was unanimously approved to be purchased during an emergency meeting of the Shelby County Commissioners' Court.

Judge Allison Harbison declared replacing the console an emergency after the aging communications equipment broke down the previous week. That required temporary equipment to be put in place while a decision was made on either repairing or replacing the old console.

The motion by Commissioner Tom Bellmyer to purchase new replacement radio dispatch equipment came after a nearly hour long meeting which included stake holders whose jobs are linked to being able to communicate. Those included representatives of a number of Shelby County fire departments.

Bellmyer's motion was to purchase and have installed $55,760 worth of new equipment.

Commissioner Charles Barr agreed a decision needed to be made as soon as possible.

“The difference in the cost of that or to fix the old stuff is just a bit over $29,000 difference,” Barr said. It came down to either patching an old system for an estimated $26,000 to $27,000 — and still ending up with that old system, or spending an about an additional $29,000 to get a new system.

Harbison said the expense, which had not been included in the sheriff's department budget even though it has been an operational issue for some time, would come out of the sheriff's budget.

“Whether we patch it for $30,000 or fix it for $60,000, that's where the money's going to come from,” she said. The Wednesday, Oct. 28 emergency meeting was the second meeting held to discuss the issue.

“The thing we need to do now is get a console …. because we're on a borrowed one right now,” she said. Prior to the first emergency meeting called on Monday morning, Oct. 26, Harbison said she was contacted by Sheriff Willis Blackwell the preceding Friday telling her the department radio console was not operational.

Barr said the bottom line was that commissioners were spending the public's tax dollars.

"I'd like to add that the money, whether it's in the sheriff's budget or whatever, it belongs to the people in the county. It's their money, and I can't think of a better way to use it than for the safety of the people in our county and the police officers," said Barr.

After an open discussion which included representatives of the Center Fire Department, the Center Volunteer Fire Department and volunteer departments from Joaquin, Shelbyville, Huxley, Tenaha and West Shelby, officials agreed there have been on-going issues with the present system which needed to be addressed.

Lufkin-based Texas Premier Communications representative Tracy Rook answered a number of questions from officials. Pct. 1 Commissioner Roscoe McSwain said there have been on-going issues involved the county's emergency radio systems for some time.

“The gripe has always been that a lot of people get on the airwaves and tie up the airwaves and something else that's important is happening, then they can't talk,” McSwain said. He asked for input from the sheriff's department.

Chief Deputy for the Shelby County Sheriff's Department said he was not authorized to make comments on behalf of the department which he has been elected to take over in January. He was speaking on his own behalf.

“When you got a county-wide fire channel that gets paged out and then they're on there, then we've got a separate channel we're operating on,” Windham said. “And what is happening, from my understanding, is that once they get paged out then dispatch, once they start talking, they mute it and that is the reason that apparently that they can no longer communicate with our dispatch because they have been muted.

Windham said that creates a safety issue for officers when they are on a scene and status checks can't be accomplished by dispatch, because they cannot be reached.

“To me, if it's an emergency, whether it be law enforcement related, EMS related or fire, they still need the capability of talking to us and making their request made known,” Windham said.

“They need to access us and, if they have hit the mute button where they can no longer hear, then there's an issue there.” Windham said. “The issue is dispatch from what I'm understanding. But, once again, that's my thoughts and I'm not relaying anything on behalf of the sheriff.”

Rook said all of the fire departments, with the exception of Center, will be dispatched from one channel unless they want to pay $5,800 to have their own channel connected to the dispatch console. He said once ordered, the new system should be installed and in operation within two to three weeks.

He also said TPC would be providing training on the new system.

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