Maria Chavez

Maria Chavez answers calls in Lake County’s dispatch office. The dispatchers work 12.5 hour shifts in a 250 square-foot office that is often above 80 degrees.

“We are basically in a closet next to the jail,” dispatcher Sarah Keenan said of Lake County’s dispatch office.

The roughly 250 square- foot office is indeed just a door and a lock away from the Lake County Jail. Though the jail is currently closed, dispatchers are accustomed to keeping a taser at the main desk in the case of a jail-related emergency.

Dispatchers often perform duties unrelated to their office because of its close proximity to the jail, Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes told the Herald. The dispatch office is part of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

The dispatchers, who are all female, are often expected to perform body searches on women arrested by LCSO. They are also responsible for monitoring courthouse and jail security cameras.

The office is also located next to a radio equipment closet. According to Reyes, the heat from the radio equipment seeps into dispatch, which already lacks adequate air circulation.

“It often gets above 80 degrees,” Keenan told the Herald. “That’s just not comfortable.”

If two 911 calls come in at the same time, they often bleed over. It is difficult for dispatchers to hear their own calls and blot out the other dispatcher’s voice. Even walking by each other can be difficult in such a small space, Reyes said.

“There is a level of frustration just upon walking into the building,” Reyes said of her dispatchers, who work 12.5 hour shifts.

In May, a task force including Reyes, representatives from local public safety agencies and non-profits, county and city government and the 5th Judicial District met to organize efforts around building a new jail. A larger-scale justice and/or public safety center is also on the table.

If a new dispatch office is included in the proposed facility, Reyes said she will recommend a secured unit, of at least 800 square feet, far away from the jail. Climate control and better air circulation are also at the top of the sheriff’s list.

Reyes will also advocate for building a dispatch office that ultimately could function independently from the sheriff’s office with its own board and budget.

“We need to make dispatch its own entity,” Reyes told the Herald. “Historically, the sheriff’s office has absorbed all the costs associated with dispatch.”

Indeed, many communication center’s around the state run independently of law enforcement agencies.

The Vail Public Safety Communication Center, for example, is funded by a variety of Eagle County emergency response agencies while remaining autonomous. Agencies share much of the cost of the center, based upon call volume.

Some centers are primarily funded by sales tax. In 2015, Chaffee County voters passed a 0.5 percent sales tax increase to increase funding for emergency medical services and the Chaffee County Communication Center.

Other counties utilize regional dispatch centers, such as the Western Colorado Regional Dispatch Center in Montrose.

Task force meetings will be held on the third Wednesday of each month (next is June 19) at 9:45 a.m. at Colorado Mountain College Room 701. All are welcome; the meetings will follow Wednesday Coffee.

•••

Throughout the summer, the Herald will delve into the current deficiencies surrounding Lake County’s civic and public safety facilities. In doing so, the paper hopes to give citizens the tools to understand and prioritize the many facility needs facing the county.

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