WINTER GARDEN — Many years removed from sharing a radio frequency, Winter Garden and Ocoee police have reunited in their dispatching.
After five years with the Apopka Police Department for dispatch services, the Ocoee Police Department has begun a five-year agreement with the Winter Garden Police Department for dispatch services from its call center at the police station on West Plant Street, effective as of July 1.
Officials from both West Orange departments have been pleased with the transition and its effects, saying the first month has gone smoothly as a win-win.
“We already dispatch for Oakland, so now you’ve got the three municipalities all in a line being dispatched from the same place,” Winter Garden Police Chief George Brennan said.
Based on the similar sizes of Ocoee and Winter Garden, the Winter Garden Police Department had an expansion of its call center to about double its previous size, to accommodate twice the staff for twice the calls, he said.
“One of the biggest benefits I think that we got from this was the opportunity for growth within our call center by enlarging it some,” Winter Garden Support Services Commander Lt. Scott Allen said. “It’s given the employees the opportunity to do a bit more. That’s big for the city of Winter Garden.”
Allen said the dispatch area had not been remodeled in about 10 years, so to have a detailed set of upgrades down to each member’s preferences in addition to the expansion was welcome.
Brennan said he had to hire nine additional staffers to compensate for taking Ocoee’s calls, but the dispatchers work more like one cohesive unit.
“It kind of complements one another, because now, if Winter Garden is really getting slammed with a bunch of 911 calls and Ocoee’s not, the staff is right there to help out and start answering the phones from Winter Garden’s side and vice-versa,” he said. “They’re all in the same room.”
But calls are not the only part of the switch. Ocoee police records and databases are now integrated with Winter Garden’s, which both Brennan and Ocoee Police Chief Charles Brown said would help them to track criminals who cross State Road 429 into the other department’s jurisdiction, especially via State Road 50.
“If I’ve got a burglary on State Road 50, they’ve probably got the same suspects on State Road 50,” Brown said. “So the State Road 50 corridor is huge.”
Brennan said negotiations for this contract had begun last August, but the contract was not finalized until the new budget session. It has a small initial cost increase from Ocoee’s agreement with Apopka but becomes a wash later and, ultimately, could end up saving around $400,000 when including the software upgrades, Brown said.
Brown said he had asked Winter Garden about this move before joining with Apopka, but Winter Garden was not able to do so at that time.
For him, the biggest difference will be the upgraded software in Winter Garden.
“The software increase we got was unbelievable,” Brown said. “Cops used to have to do a report on the road, bring it in, make copies, turn it in and then the records people would input it. And I was like, ‘This is 2014-15, right?’ Now they can do them and check them online — they don’t print anything. It’s unbelievable that technology left us behind.”
One new capability for Brown is to see on his computer a live map of where all of the officers among the departments are and their status, he said. He said he has gained the ability to better inform residents of what has been happening in their areas, too.
As far as the dispatch staff goes, the familiarity between the neighboring cities is amplified from their frequent partnerships and connectivity, as well as a ride-along day dispatchers spent with Ocoee officers, Brown said.
“Now we’re just getting familiar with it, but the system is great; the dispatch is great,” he said. “I know that we’re going to get good service and … the best way to dispatch.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].