County works to ensure field officer safety

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The 911 department wants to work with Dubois County Community Corrections field officers who make home visits to check on people who are on house arrest.

But they don’t want the check-in calls from the officers to come through on the emergency line, since the checks are not emergencies.

The community corrections department requested that field officers be able to call in to dispatch when they go on a house visit. Field officers check to make sure offenders who are at home and are under a community corrections program are complying to the rules of their sentence.

The 911 Advisory Board discussed that idea Monday evening, as well as the idea of having field officers use 800-megahertz radios to call in to the community corrections control room.

“They are going into dangerous environments,” said Dubois Circuit Court Judge Nathan Verkamp, who is president of the county community corrections board. “And all we’re asking for is the ability for two field officers to be able to call in on the radio and say, ‘I’m at this location,’ and a few minutes later say, ‘I’m out. All clear.’ That’s all we’re asking.”

Field officers currently check in via text to Corrections Director Megan Durlauf, so that someone knows exactly where they are. If a field officer hasn’t checked back in 15 minutes, Durlauf texts the officer to make sure they are safe.

Such a system is flawed, Verkamp said. It requires that Durlauf gets the text and is with her phone for the texts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their worry is that she will get busy with her job or other activities at home and miss a text and the followup.

“Megan sitting around all day tracking these guys by text messages is not safe for the officers,” Verkamp said.

Using the 800-MHz radios to call in to the community corrections control room should be tried first, said Jeana Mathies, 911’s assistant director, who will become director when Janice Love retires at the end of March. Both Mathies and Love said that their concern was field officers calling in on 911’s emergency frequency.

“It was about being on the emergency frequency. They are not police, fire or EMS,” Mathies said. “Corrections is welcomed on (the) 800 (MHz system). They have their own trunking. They can talk throughout the state, to different corrections officers.”

And if any of those calls would have to come to dispatch, it would not be on the emergency frequency, Mathies explained.

Verkamp said that having the officers call in to the community corrections control room would be problematic as well.

“The control room has two officers. And they’re checking 102 people in and out,” he said. “They’re doing drug screens, patting down participants, they’re doing walkthroughs at the dormitories. They’re not there all the time in the control room to take a call. So if there is an emergency that goes out, we’ve just missed the call.”

There is always someone in dispatch, he said.

“There is going to be somebody here that the field officer can call and say, ‘I’m here,’ and ‘I’m gone. I’m clear,’” Verkamp said. “We’re just asking for the ability to track these folks for their safety.”

The plan for the moment is for community corrections to use radios they have received from the sheriff’s department and have field officers call in through the radios to the control room officers. Meanwhile, the 911 department will get through its transition of receiving and training new dispatchers and of Mathies transitioning to director.

“In two months, if this doesn’t work, then we will revisit it,” said County Commissioner Chad Blessinger, who is president of the 911 board and sits on the community corrections board. “If the county needs to put more resources into 911, to have another person here to help alleviate the problems here, it’s not a closed door.”

Everyone said they were determined to find a solution to the situation.

“We’re looking for a way to ensure that we have a safe staff for the community corrections people, for those officers going out there, and that we are not negatively impacting anything that goes on with 911,” Blessinger said. “We are going to find a solution together.”

 

The board also:

• Congratulated Mathies for her upcoming promotion to director of the 911 department.

• Scheduled additional meetings to be held during the transition of the department’s leadership from Love to Mathies. The 911 Advisory Board will meet on March 18 to have a small reception thanking Love for her service. A meeting will also be held on April 29, and the board’s next regular meeting will be on June 10. All meetings will start at 6 p.m. at the 911 department, 1187 South St. Charles St.

• Heard a report on the department’s 2018 statistics. The department had 12,513 calls through its emergency line; 9,784 of those were from cellphones, and 2,729 from landline phones. On its 10-digit, non-emergency line, the department received 23,602 calls. But those calls included emergency calls that were transferred to the department from other counties’ dispatch, Mathies explained.




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