Cellular 911 calls cause concerns

Posted April 08, 2010, at 9:26 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:02 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — While the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department does not directly receive 911 emergency cellular calls, the state agency that does receive the calls has transferred many to the department, according to a state official.

A frustrated Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin complained this week that his department had received numerous calls from people who have made 911 cellular calls but have had to wait long periods of time for response. He said that cell phone calls made in Piscataquis County are routed to the Maine State Police and that they do not forward the information, which would allow one of his deputies to respond.

Lt. Wesley Hussey of the Maine State Police said Thursday that 52 emergency cellular calls were transferred to the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department in 2009. Hussey said that he was never advised by Goggin that there was a problem nor have any cellular callers complained to state police about the response time.

Goggin said Thursday that he hadn’t called Hussey, but that he had complained repeatedly to other state officials.

Hussey said cellular calls are not routed to the Maine State Police but to the Emergency Communications Bureau, which is housed with the state police in Orono, and that the bureau transfers calls to the appropriate agencies.

The Maine State Police used to do its own dispatching but in 2006 the Maine Department of Public Safety created the bureau to handle those services. He said state police pay a fee for the dispatching services.

Cellular 911 calls made from Piscataquis County typically are assigned to his troopers, but not always, Hussey said. If the cellular call is an emergency, and some cellular 911 calls are not, Hussey said dispatchers quite often call the nearest law enforcement agency to handle the complaint.

“[They] do that on a regular basis; I think that’s just good service for the public,” he said.

Chad Labree, an emergency communications supervisor for the bureau, said Wednesday his office dispatches cellular 911 calls from Penobscot, Hancock, Washington and Piscataquis counties, but that Piscataquis is the only county that does not have a call-sharing agreement.

He said the county used to have an agreement but pulled out. If a call-sharing agreement existed between the state police and the Sheriff’s Department, more calls would be transferred to the Sheriff’s Department, Labree said.

“Proven by the other three counties, call sharing works,” Labree said. The call-sharing agreement divides a county on alternating weeks, with one half covered by state police and the other half by the sheriff’s department, he said.

Hussey said he had approached Goggin in 2008 about resuming the call-sharing agreement also known as a resource coordination agreement.

Goggin said earlier this week that a three-year call-sharing agreement his department had from 1999 to 2002 had not worked well so he opted out. Hussey said such agreements were working well in Hancock and Penobscot counties. He said the state police were willing to work through any problems with Piscataquis and that agreements can be adjusted when needed.

“The view of the state police is that it’s the right thing to do for the public; it’s maximizing very limited law enforcement resources in the rural areas,” Hussey said.

Goggin said Thursday that despite the differences between the two agencies, the object should be to make sure that Piscataquis County residents get the best and quickest service they can. He believes cellular 911 calls made from Piscataquis County should be directed to his department for quicker response times.

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