MISHAWAKA — Top leaders of the St. Joseph County 911 Center have recommended pulling the plug on the dispatch system and spending $2.7 million on a new one in an effort to solve a long series of problems.
The center’s executive board — County Commissioner Andy Kostielney, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood — unanimously recommended Friday that the county Board of Commissioners purchase a new computer-aided dispatch system from Motorola.
Motorola estimated it would take a year to install its system at the center near Mishawaka, which would replace Plano, Texas-based Tyler Technologies’ New World system. That system, which took two years to set up at a cost of $3 million, has been used since June 2017.
The executive board’s recommendation is contingent on the Motorola system also being recommended by the center’s operations board, which is composed of police and fire chiefs.
The operations board will meet Tuesday to consider the matter, and its president, South Bend Fire Chief Steve Cox, said he is “pretty confident” the recommendation will be made. That would clear the way for the three-member Board of Commissioners — composed of Kostielney, Deb Fleming and Dave Thomas — to vote Jan. 2 on a contract with Motorola.
Center leaders have blamed numerous problems on Tyler Technologies’ system, which they say has caused thousands of dispatches to be delayed and put public safety at risk.
In some cases, police and fire agencies continue to be sent to the wrong places because of mix-ups with addresses that have the same street names in different municipalities. And the system has crashed a handful of times this fall, causing 911 call takers to resort to a “pen and paper” method.
The center argues there are several issues spelled out in Tyler’s contract that the company still needs to address. Tyler argues it never committed to those items, which would be software enhancements that require time to develop.
Tyler also says it has worked diligently for months to help the center resolve problems.
Many initial problems were caused by issues with the county’s Geographic Information System data, but they have since been fixed, Tyler argues. Other problems were related to staff training and the lack of of IT personnel at the center, the company says.
In a statement, Tyler said it has gone “above and beyond” to resolve issues with the center’s own “infrastructure, operations and GIS data.”
The company has also pointed out that its system is used by 1,800 agencies in 43 states and nearly 900 cities.
“Through it all, we have shared the same interest as the citizens of St. Joseph County — a rapid, reliable, and accurate emergency dispatch system,” the statement said. “That is what we delivered, and that is what we can continue to support.”
Ray Schultz, the center’s executive director, said attempts to resolve issues with Tyler didn’t work out.
“We felt we weren’t getting the customer service we wanted and that issues were greatly affecting public safety,” he said. “It would have been significantly cheaper to make it work than to change, but they said they couldn’t deliver the things we wanted until the end of 2019.”
Motorola was among a handful of providers that submitted proposals for systems earlier this year. Motorola submitted the lowest bid, and 911 center leaders were impressed with a demonstration the company conducted several weeks ago.
Schultz said Motorola’s system was recently installed in Marion County, and officials there are pleased with it. Marion has a population of 950,000 — the largest among Indiana counties.
It didn’t take long for Wood, Kostielney and Buttigieg to make their recommendation.
“I think we all recognize the need to move forward,” Wood said.
Buttigieg said it’s important “we don’t fool ourselves” that a new software provider “can fix anything that’s wrong.”
He also noted that the center is expected to hire a new IT director in coming weeks. That position was vacated this fall by Brent Croymans.
A payment plan for the new system hasn’t yet been detailed, but the center has reserve money that could be tapped. The reserves come from contributions from the county, South Bend and Mishawaka.