A cost-share proposal offered by Warren County 911 Joint Communications has pitted it against local law enforcement agencies.
Area police department officials are questioning a proposal that will require them to pay $61,741.47 in 2013 to the 911 agency to continue entering and maintaining entries into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System — also referred to as MULES.
Among the records entered into the statewide database are arrest warrants, missing persons and stolen property.
Department heads representing the sheriff’s department, Warrenton and Wright City police departments, along with elected officials from the Warren County Commission, Warrenton and Truesdale, spoke against the cost-share proposal at the 911 board meeting last Thursday.
The officials said they attended the meeting because previous attempts to get information on the proposal had been rebuffed, including a Sunshine Law request.
Both sides agreed to meet again on Wednesday, July 18, to discuss the cost-share proposal and to see if a resolution can be reached.
“It occurs to me that everybody is being affected by the economy, including my department,” Warrenton Police Chief Greg Houdyshell said. “The last thing I thought about doing was cutting services.”
The law enforcement agencies were notified May 18 in a letter from 911 Administrator Amy Ellard that the 911 Board had decided to discontinue entering and maintaining the MULES entries on Dec. 31 “due to the ever-increasing cost incurred.” She wrote that MULES entries are not a core function of the 911 agency.
In the same letter she offered to continue the service if the law enforcement agencies were willing to share in the cost.
According to the letter from Ellard, each law enforcement agency’s annual fee would be based on the volume of entries. The $61,741.47 to be paid in 2013 was based on the expenses related to employing one full-time employee ($32,823.92), one part-time employee ($15,190), a quarter of an on-staff employee’s time ($7,538.30) and operating costs ($6,189.25).
The sheriff’s department total number of MULES entries in 2011 was 3,994, or 75 percent of the total. Its estimated fee is $46,562.58 for 2013.
The Warrenton Police Department had the second-highest number of entries with 806 or 15 percent last year. Its fee would be $9,396.45. The fee for the Wright City Police Department is estimated at $4,826.47 based on 414 entries, or 8 percent of the total volume. The cost-share for Truesdale and Marthasville would be $746.12 and $209.85, respectively.
Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison disagreed with the formula used to determine each agency’s proposed fee saying his department’s estimated expenses were inflated compared to others.
He argued that some warrants and database entries assessed to his department are the result of actions by circuit judges, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the probation and parole office. He also remarked the sheriff’s department appears to be responsible for paying for entries in cases initiated by a municipal police department that eventually lead to state charges filed by prosecutors.
“That further to us illustrates how this isn’t logical,” Harrison said.
County 911 officials defended their decision to stop entering records into MULES at no charge due to funding and liability concerns. They said other dispatch agencies are facing similar dilemmas.
“The MULES program has grown, gotten bigger, gotten more intense,” John Gebhards explained. “It takes more of our people’s time.”
Many in the law enforcement community said they fought for the half-cent sales tax proposition for the county 911 agency which was passed in February 1994. They said entering records into the MULES database was always part of the agency’s responsibility since the dispatch center opened in February 1996. Should an agreement not be reached with the 911 board, the law enforcement agencies would have to find an alternative way of handling the MULES entries. Prior to the 911 agency being formed, each department handled dispatching and MULES entries on its own, or contracted with one of the local departments.
“To say it’s been provided as a courtesy, it’s not genuine,“ said John Cornell, Warrenton Ward 1 alderman and former county deputy. “The process of each law enforcement agency maintaining their own warrants will be a manpower burden that will put us back to square one before 911 was online.”
Both sides also differ on how long it takes for an entry to be entered and validated. Houdyshell said researching other dispatch centers found that 30 minutes is enough time to complete the task, while 911 officials say it’s closer to an hour.
Nonetheless, 911 board member Frank Stuermann believes the frustration between both sides could be avoided if all of the first responder agencies meet on a regular basis and establish a better line of communication.The July 18 meeting may be a step in the right direction.
“We need to work together,” Stuermann said.