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Faster emergency response, zero cost

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Joining LCCA will improve police response time, modernize police units in Lovington

LOVINGTON — On Monday Lovington Commissioners heard a plan that will not only improve police response time, but could modernize police patrol units and save the city close to $1 million.

Lovington Police Chief David Miranda recommended to the commission to accept the offer from the county to absorb all of Lovington’s emergency response and dispatch into the Lea County Communications Authority — especially since it comes at no cost to the city.

The county did previously ask municipalities to join the LCCA, but that request came with an associated cost of the additional dispatch positions the county would have to create to handle the additional call volume. Now the county is prepared to absorb that cost. That would save Lovington about $400,000 in salary cost in addition to the about $524,000 in real cost savings from not having to implement a 911 system — which would be required for any municipality that chooses not to join the LCCA. But there is one minor catch.

“What’s different this time is they’re offering it to us for free,” said Miranda. “It does come with a small price. The smaller agencies would not have a board seat on LCCA … but they would form an advisory board to the LCCA for any concerns or issues going forward.”

Long-time residents, including some commissioners have questioned joining the LCCA, because they feared loosing local control. They point out local citizens can call a local police number for non-emergency response from police. That number was referred to in the meeting several times as “2811.”

The LCCA already dispatches fire and EMS services as well as handling all county 911 calls — something the LCCA has done for all municipalities in Lea County for about 10 years. All municipalities moving to the LCCA would also increase mutual aid between communities officials said.

Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher was asked by Miranda to speak on behalf of the LCCA and explain the offer being made to all municipalities in Lea County. Before he got into details of the plan, Gallagher told commissioners he has lived in Lovington for more than a decade, and he doesn’t know what the local “2811” number is. He also suggested those who are younger, or don’t live in Lovington but may be in the city, or passing through, don’t know what that number is either.

“I’m a resident of Loving-ton. I’ve been here since December of 2010,” Gallagher said.

And, joining the LCCA would actually improve call response time, Gallagher and Miranda said. Currently, no matter what part of Lea County someone is in, when the call for 911 comes in, that call is routed through the LCCA. For municipalities who have not moved local dispatch to the LCCA, like Lovington, the LCCA then has to take the information and call the local dispatch and relay the information. That looses precious time.

“What we’re trying to do is make all of Lea County safer and decrease emergency response time. LCCA dispatching for each community makes each community safer because it decreases response time,” said Gallagher. “When people who come to Lovington they don’t know that number (2811) … and they get in an accident, or have a heart attack, or whatever it is, they’re not going to Google, ‘What is the fastest way to get Lovington police here.’ They’re going to call 911. And when they call 911, the call comes to (LCCA). We have to relay that information, and time is lost.”

Gallagher also said the LCCA has received numerous accolades.

“We’re the first consolidated dispatch center in the state to receive an accreditation through the New Mexico Municipal League and the New Mexico Counties. We did that first in 2015 and the second one was in 2018, and starting Nov. 15, we’ll start our assessment for out third re-accreditation,” he said. “We received some Congressional accolades. We’re the only agency in the entire state of New Mexico that has received certification through the national missing and exploited persons. We have certification to handle missing and abused children — not even the State of New Mexico, or CYFD has that, or New Mexico State Police.”

And moving local dispatch to the LCCA not only saves the city money, but also could be better for those employees, Gallagher said.

“We value their years of experience. We value their years of service to the city, we would want them to come on with us and would credit them those years of service,” he told commissioners. “So they would earn annually at what an employee with (that many) years of service, whatever service they have. … we’re investing a lot into our first responders.”

The governor has put in motion steps to break the state of New Mexico into five regional hubs that will handle all dispatching in those regions, Gallagher said. That consolidation could happen as early as the next legislative session. But regardless of when it happens, if Lea County is already consolidated it puts all of Lea County in a good position. Counties with all municipalities in the county centralized into one dispatch center will be at the forefront for consideration when the governor’s mandated changes happen.

“That is happening,” Gallagher said. “The New Mexico State Police who are here (in Lea County) right now are dispatched out of Las Cruces, so the technology is there for the dispatching to be handled anywhere. … Do we want to be in the running to handle our 911 calls? I think we as a community — the entire Lea County community — I think we would like to be in the running to take our 911 calls.”

Lea County’s offer to Lovington is similar to all other municipalities in Lea County, but the county is also offering to donate patrol units to the LPD, and donate and install 12 MTD (mobile terminals) in police patrol units. Lovington is currently the only municipality in Lea County without MTDs in any police units.

“We will have most, if not all of our patrol units with in-car mobile data terminals. … Just the MTDs alone represent a $120,000 value,” said Miranda. “The officers are very excited about getting MTDs in their units.”

Gallagher said the offer from the county to all municipalities in Lea County, pending approval by commissioners at their next meeting, is:

• No cost for municipalities to move to the LCCA.

• Dispatchers will move to the county’s pay scale, unless they are currently making more, then they will continue at their current pay. Uncertified dispatcher salaries start at $22 per hour, and certified dispatcher salaries start at $28 per hour.

• Dispatchers who move to the LCCA will keep their years in service and gain county benefits relating to them.

Mayor David Trujillo and commissioner Bernard Butcher later told the News-Sun moving to the LCCA is a no-lose proposition for Lovington and other Lea County Municipalities.

“It’s really a good thing for all of our people,” said Butcher. “It just makes sense, and with it not costing us anything to make the move, I don’t see why we wouldn’t.”

“It really is a no-brainer,” Trujillo said. “When people call 911, our police will get there faster and it will save Lovington money.”

Miranda also told the commission LPD is currently at a 63 percent staffing rate, and the move would help the department overall.

“We haven’t had a full dispatch center in about 10 years,” Miranda said. “The great thing is our dispatchers are going to be taken care of. We care about our dispatchers. They keep us safe. … I’m not going to say this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it’s certainly a once in a generation opportunity. It’s a big decision.”

In other actions, Lovington commissioners:

• Approved an amendment that will allow commissioners to take part in the City of Lovington insurance program. Previously, commissioners had already been offered the opportunity to enroll on the city’s insurance program, but neither the city attorney, or commissioners who looked into it could find where that was allowed in any city ordinances going back to the early 1970s. Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor, with commissioner Scott Boldt as the only “no” vote.

• Approved the advertising for the City Manager and Finance Director positions. The city has spent about $18,000 on advertising for the positions, including online advertising and employment websites city staff informed the commission.

• Voted to update signatures cards on city bank accounts to remove former employees and add new ones.

• Approved a plan that was tabled twice at previous meetings allowing Dawson Geophysical permits to conduct geophysical operations.

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