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Keokuk Delays Dispatch Vote; Seeks Compromise

Jason Parrott
Keokuk delayed a vote on whether to remain part of LeeComm, the county's centralized emergency dispatch center.

The Keokuk City Council delayed a vote on whether to remain a member of the countywide emergency dispatch center (LeeComm) in the hopes that future negotiations can occur. Alderman Dan Winn summed up the tone of his colleagues during this week's emergency meeting.

“I don’t want to say yes because it has too many flaws,” said Winn. “I’m not saying no because there’s room for improvement. I want to bring it back to the table.”

LeeComm was formed seven years ago through a 28E agreement between ten founding members: Lee County, the county’s emergency management commission and the eight incorporated cities within the county. The agreement expires June 30, 2016.

A new 28E agreement has been approved by almost every member. Only Keokuk has publicly objected to the proposal, which establishes a new funding formula for the dispatch center and creates a new oversight board for day-to-day operations at the facility.

Keokuk does not believe those additions go far enough to solve the problems it sees with both the agreement and the dispatch center in general.

Law Enforcement Concerns

Police Chief Dave Hinton told aldermen during the special meeting that the service provided by LeeComm has been lacking for years. He said his officers do not always get the information they need from the dispatchers.

“That’s very important to us,” said Hinton. “We use that information to retrieve data, follow-up on calls, and investigate. It’s not being filled out completely. We’re still dealing with that as recently as last week.”

Examples he provided include:

  • KPD officers being provided wrong addresses
  • KPD officers being dispatched to locations outside Keokuk
  • Dispatchers not collecting information needed for filing full reports
  • Inaccurate call times provided.

“We get 14,000 calls a year,” said Hinton. “It’s impossible to track each one. A lot of these things we discovered because of citizen complaints.”
Hinton said more than a few of the complaints his department has received have revolved around after-hours assistance at his own police station.

Keokuk’s dispatcher was located inside the front door of the police station prior to the creation of LeeComm. That person could provide assistance to someone who arrived looking for help.

Now, there is no one in that office, so someone arriving at the Keokuk police station must pick up a phone and call LeeComm for assistance. The LeeComm dispatcher is then supposed to alert a Keokuk police officer of the call.

Hinton said on multiple occasions, those calls have gone unanswered or the KPD officers were not told of them. He said the LeeComm dispatchers even failed to tell his department that the video camera showing the police station lobby was not working for several weeks.

City Administrator Aaron Burnett said Keokuk has been raising these issues to no avail for several years.

“No matter how many times Keokuk brings it up, if the other entities are not interested in resolving that issue or do not believe it is an issue, then Keokuk cannot by itself resolve the issue,” said Burnett.

Burnett said that’s why the city would like the new LeeComm agreement to include more reporting back to members about day-to-day operations within the center. The city would also like to see additional oversight changes.

City Attorney Douglas Dorando told aldermen he also had concerns about the contract language. This week he released a 17-page memo regarding the agreement.  You canread the memo here.

The city also plans to send a series of questions to the rest of the Lee-Comm members.

Burnett said at this point, no one knows what will happen if Keokuk does not sign the proposed 28E agreement to continue LeeComm beyond June 30.

“We tried to get clarification through the process, but we were never able to get that,” said Burnett. “When presenting the information to council, it’s hard to say definitively if you choose not to sign this, then we will not receive service.”

“I believe that there is a belief out there that we will not receive service, however, the proposed 28E does list Keokuk not only as board members, but also signatories onto the 28E. There are a lot of questions out there and we have not received any answers.”

The Keokuk City Council tried to cover all of its bases during the emergency meeting by talking behind closed doors about potential litigation. It's expected this would be filed by the city because there is no pending litigation against the city regarding LeeComm.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.