RICHMOND (Covering Katy News) – The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court has voted unanimously to create an organization that will study the possibility of taking emergency dispatch operations from the Sheriff’s Office and making dispatch a stand-alone organization.
“It would be a consolidated independent dispatch agency where all entities have input,” said Commissioner Andy Meyers, who proposed the change after Sheriff Troy Nehls stopped dispatching calls to constable’s units even if they were available and closer to the person in need.
Meyers’ vision is an independent dispatch agency that would take input from all agencies that use its services. There are numerous police, fire and EMS organizations that are dispatched by the Sheriff’s Office.
The heated disagreement over the Fort Bend County dispatch procedures grew even hotter at Tuesday’s meeting of the Commissioners Court when Sheriff Nehls openly questioned the motives of both Meyers and Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson.
“I haven’t seen you (in the dispatch center) in six and a half years,” Sheriff Troy Nehls said to Meyers.
“Are you going to sit there and attack me? Is that your purpose here?” Republican Commissioner Meyers said to Republican Sheriff Nehls.
“That office (Precinct 3 Constable) in coordination with Precinct 3 Commissioner Meyers sent out false information regarding this policy change creating fear and panic amongst the citizens we serve,” Nehls told members of the Commissioners Court.
“This is uncalled for, Sheriff,” Meyers said. “All we’re trying to do is follow through with the complaints that we get,” Meyers said. “Had they never called me with their concerns this would never have come up.”
Nehls changed the Sheriff’s Office dispatch policy Jan. 1, 2019. Dispatchers no longer dispatch 911 emergency calls to any of the constable’s offices in Fort Bend County. Meyers says that change in policy has created delays, but Nehls says it has slightly improved response times.
Meyers represents Precinct 3, which has the largest percentage of people who live in unincorporated areas. That means Precinct 3, more than any of the other Fort Bend precincts, depends completely on the Sheriff’s Office and Constable Office for law enforcement. Unincorporated areas do not have municipal police departments to protect them.
Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson, also a Republican, scoffs at Nehls’ claims that the Sheriff’s Office has improved response times. He believes it’s counterintuitive to claim that response times have improved when dispatchers no longer send calls to the nearest unit.
“I believe this was punitive and I believe there is no place for this in our county,” responded Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson.
Thompson told the Commissioners Court that his units responded to more than 33,000 calls in the year before the dispatch policy was changed.
Nehls says deputy constables can still watch their screen and respond to calls. Thompson and Meyers say they don’t want deputies looking at a screen while they are driving. They want to go back to the old policy where dispatchers call the nearest unit on the radio.
Much of the discussion initiated by Nehls was about what a fine job his staff does for the county dispatching law enforcement, emergency medical and fire calls.
“I can say without reservation that I could not be more proud of the 63 men and women who work in our dispatch center,” Nehls said.
But the issue has never been about the competency of the dispatchers. It’s always been about the policy change Nehls implemented Jan. 1.
County Judge KP George had one key question that he could not get Nehls or his chief deputy to answer.
“What is stopping you from going back to the policy of Dec. 31,” George asked. “How will it impact you?” Those questions were asked, more than once, but never answered.
“This is what other counties have done,” Meyers said.
The committee would only have non-elected officials. It would consist of a member from the county information technology department, a county municipal police department, a county municipal fire department, the Fort Bend Emergency Medical Services Director, the Fort Bend Fire Marshall/Emergency Management Director, a Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch manager, and a member of the County Attorney’s office. There may also be a consultant and experts from other counties who have experience with independent dispatch operations.
The committee will make recommendations, but any changes would have to be approved by the full Commissioners Court, which is now controlled by Democrats who are likely watching this Republican Party feud with interest.