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Dispatch

Dana Price, emergency communications specialist for the Flagstaff 911 Communications Center, has worked as a law enforcement dispatcher for 2.5 years.

Multiple different agencies and organizations from around northern Arizona have expressed their concern and disappointment about the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s decision to close its northern dispatch center based in Flagstaff.

Members of the Arizona Troopers Association, which contains former and current department troopers, have been applying pressure to the department to keep the northern dispatch center open. The center covers an area larger than the state of Washington and includes Mohave, Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo, Apache and Gila counties, as well as the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

The dispatchers that will cover the area in the future will be working out of the dispatch center in Phoenix, according to department officials.

David Felix, a member of the Arizona Troopers Association and retired deputy and acting director of the department, said they have spoken with multiple members of the department and the plans to close the center have not changed.

But Felix said their problems about the closure have not changed either. Dispatchers in the northern center are concerned that mistakes might be made when Phoenix dispatchers take over. Juggling a new, expansive jurisdiction like northern Arizona, while also responding to the demand of a dense population will be difficult, Felix said.

“This issue, I’m not aware of anything that has had as much activity and as many people that have been trying to drum up continued support for the Northern Communication Center,” Felix said.

Department officials originally told the Arizona Daily Sun in February that the closure was due to unsuccessful recruitment efforts. Felix believes that the department has not tried hard enough to recruit potential employees by going to high schools and colleges.

The Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce board of directors offered its help to fill the vacancies at the northern center in a letter to Director Frank Milstead, who approved the closure decision.

“The immediate impact has been minimally estimated at a community loss of $1.5 million,” the letter to the director said. “The long-term impact of losing 30 state government positions can only be much greater.”

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Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents Legislative District 7 which includes the Navajo and Hopi Reservation, also sent a letter to the department’s director. In her letter, she said she was willing to work with the department to keep the center open.

“I find it hard to justify such a move, even considering the cited reasons for the decision. Northern Arizona depends on this dispatch center for communications support, saving thousands of lives every year,” Peshlakai wrote in her letter.

Arizona State Senator Bob Thorpe, who represents Legislative District 6 which includes Flagstaff, said he also opposed the impact on jobs, and how it would impact individuals who might have to relocate out of northern Arizona.

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“There is a need for good paying Flagstaff jobs," Thorpe said," so I feel that recruiting statewide for additional Flagstaff dispatchers will help identify needed candidates and provide good paying jobs, especially for our northern Arizona citizens.”

Thorpe cited the low-staffing levels at the Phoenix center which he believes would complicate the move.

“Keeping the Flagstaff dispatch open might actually help support the Tucson and Phoenix facilities when they are overwhelmed, where Flagstaff can assist them,” Thorpe said.

Felix believes the statements from organizations and state senators like Thorpe and Peshlakai show the impact the closure could have on people in northern Arizona. The impact of the closure won’t be known until the center shuts its doors, Felix said.

“Are lives going to be lost? Are people going to be hurt? We hope not,” Felix said. “Someone slow to respond or call wrong resources, that could cause a problem. But that’s pure speculation, you hope that doesn’t happen.”

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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