LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) — In response to concerns from citizens, Longboat Key leaders are considering making changes to who picks up the phone when someone on the island calls for help.
“What we are going to try to do is implement something that will be an after-hours number that our citizens can call and they will get to a town employee relatively quickly and try to get dispatched the right resources to whatever that issue is,” Town Manager Howard Tipton said.
About seven years ago, the town turned over its dispatch system to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Communications Center. The center is the primary Public Safety Answering Point for 11 agencies across the county.
Former Commissioner Lynn Larson voted in support of the move, but now, she says she regrets that decision.
“People have complained to me about the dispatch system, saying one of the first things they ask for are cross streets and there are barely any cross streets out here. Many of the places out here are known by the condominium name or the subdivision name,” Larson said. “Recently when I called for help, the dispatcher argued with me and told me that I needed to hang up the phone and call another county because I didn’t live in Sarasota County. I told them, I don’t live in Charlotte County. I finally told them, I am across the street from the Longboat Key Club, but I didn’t seem to make any difference to them,” she continued.
Another time, Larson says she called 911 to report a car crash and was placed on hold.
“After being on hold, I picked up the phone and called the town receptionist and asked her to please call the police and send them over to the address. That is something else when you have to call the receptionist to get 911 response and police response,” Larson said.
Town officials say they’re well aware of residents concerns and are working on a solution.
“We are aware of the issue, we have heard it. I have heard it from people as important as my wife occasionally, so we are dealing with it and I think we have got a potential solution ready to roll out pretty soon. We are taking it seriously and I think we are going to fix it,” Mayor Ken Schneier said.
Town Manager Howard Tiptson says they’re considering moving non-emergency calls back to the island and leaving 911 calls up to the county sheriff’s office’s call center.
“The primary benefit is for our residents to have direct access to somebody who is going to be more familiar with the Town of Longboat Key compared to the call center. I think it is maybe 50-to-60% of the calls that come into the 911 center are not emergencies, so the benefit is it will prioritize those calls, but it is really also going to help our residents as well,” Tipton said.
An exact timeline remains unclear, but Tipton hopes to see movement by next spring.
Officials with the county’s Emergency Operations Bureau has met with town officials within the last month. The sheriff’s office wants to remind the public during times of high call volume, callers anywhere in Sarasota County can enter into a queue when calling 911. To improve the response, callers are urged to stay on the line and the call will be answered in the order it was received.