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Mandated improvements to 9-1-1 service has taxpayers on the hook

Federally mandated changes to the 9-1-1 system will mean higher costs for the Waterloo Regional Police and, thus, all taxpayers in the region.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires a province-wide implementation of the Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 911) system by 2015, allowing callers to also send photos and texts to a dispatcher.

Modernizing a 40-year-old system will be a costly endeavour, Police Services Board chair Tom Galloway said this week.

Hardware and software costs that form phase 1 of the project will cost the police $265,000.

“When we actually have to start staffing it and implementing it in 2015 we are quite concerned about the increase in operating costs,” he said on July 10.

Currently if a 9-1-1 call is less than three seconds long police don’t have to respond. These are often pocket dials or people changing their minds, Galloway explained. In the future the requirement will be to follow up on all calls.

“That could potentially increase the number of calls by about 1,500 a month. … That’s going to increase the work load considerably.”

As the provider of 9-1-1 services, the police are expected to cover the costs, but Galloway notes the police budget is already overstretched.

“One of the discussions that we had at the police board is about who should be paying for this. Because the police, of course, provide this service for all emergency services, should we have to pay for all of this when in fact there’s the ambulance and fire departments that also use the 9-1-1 service?”

The service is provided by Waterloo Regional Police, yet about 30 per cent of 9-1-1 calls are non-police calls, he added.

Though it ultimately won’t make a difference to the amount paid by taxpayers, the board is entertaining the idea of splitting the bill and starting discussions with municipalities, fire and ambulance services, and regional government about how the costs of equipment and operational costs might be shared.

“The police budget is under pressure. We had to reduce the number of constables by nine in this current budget year, and the next couple of years won’t be any easier for the police budget,” he said.

Galloway added that the future operating costs are the most crucial issue as it concerns increased workloads and regular increased expenses. Though there is little choice in the matter – the CRTC is mandating the change province-wide – he said it’s hard to gauge the cost/benefit ratio of the system overhaul despite some apparent advantages. The new system will provide options for disabled callers and the rest of the public to communicate via a variety of media platforms.

“How do you measure the value in terms of could this potentially save a life? The responding unit could actually prepare for what they are going to arrive at, actually have a visualization of what the scene looks like. Will that save a life? It’s hard to say.”

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