Should Anchorage's Police & Fire Dispatch Departments Merge?

The city can make its public safety system work even better if it combines both the police and fire dispatches while also saving around $250,000 annually on salaries and benefits, according to an outside report by Matrix Consulting Group.

The study puts five options on the table, ranging from leaving the systems the way they are, along with slowly merging them and to having one single dispatch center under one roof.

Assemblyman Bill Starr says the clock is running to upgrade a service that has room for improvements 

"You don't need a one minute delay, you don't need that," said Bill Starr. "It's not to be critical of our current staffing, it's to encourage that we invest in that heavily and move on to good decision making that really protects our citizens." 

While the Anchorage Police Department is open to the idea of merging the two dispatches, it wants to make sure the compromise doesn't slow down how it does its job.

"You don't want to bargain basement, low bid 911,” said APD Chief Mark Mew. 

Police describe it as a complicated system that also includes the computer aided dispatch program along with records management, the E 911 systems and the backup center that is designed to be ready if there's a problem at the main dispatches. 

"If you combine us into one center, if that center catches on fire, there's not a different center to take the traffic while you move," said Chief Mew. 

With so much at stake, the plan is to look at the proposed road map to figure out the best way to improve public safety while not compromising what city responders do.  

"It's very easy to gloss over the top of this and say well let's just combine everybody," said Mew. “I'm not saying we won't do that; I'm not saying it's not a good idea, but there are a lot of moving parts to make something like this go and we cannot afford to have a mistake along the way so it's got to be very carefully planned."  

Fire chief Chris Bushue says he agrees that improvements can be made to the dispatch system but it’s not a simple project and it has to be done right.

Starr plans on introducing a measure to combine the two dispatches at the Assembly meeting on Nov. 19.