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BLOOMINGTON - When the city of Bloomington's police and fire dispatch center goes online later this year, city staff know they will be closely scrutinized.

The dispatch center is under construction in the Bloomington Police Department. Once it is operational, the city will no longer have its police and fire units dispatched by Metcom.

Bloomington's departure from Metcom, a countywide emergency dispatching system, drew heavy criticism last year from Metcom partners McLean County and the town of Normal. The county and the town will remain in Metcom.

"We want to be able to prove we can do it," said Bloomington police Lt. Bob Siron, who oversees the project to build the center. "When we first get started we know we are going to have issues, but long term we don't want to have those problems."

The city will pay more to have its own center than it contributed to Metcom, but officials said having direct supervision of the dispatch center will allow them to fix problems more quickly.

The 17 dispatchers who will work in Bloomington's center are already hired and Siron said they will begin their training March 6. The system likely will go online by July 1.

"We won't have any problems," said City Manager Tom Hamilton. "There should be plenty of time for training and testing so we should have a chance to work out all the bugs before we go live."

In leaving Metcom, the city argued the procedure for correcting problems between dispatchers and officers was often ineffective. The city would have to go through the Metcom board and wait for the county, who is the employer of the dispatchers, to act on the complaint.

The dispatchers at the new center will be city employees with every shift supervised by a Bloomington police sergeant.

"They are right when they say this is all about control," Siron said, referring to criticism of the city's motive for leaving Metcom. "We will have the control to fix problems immediately."

At of the end of December, the city has spent slightly more than $2 million to build the center, said police spokesman Duane Moss.

When the City Council voted to leave Metcom in January 2005, the estimated cost to build the system was $1.74 million.

The annual operating costs are estimated right at $900,000, Moss said. That amount is about $200,000 more than the $700,000 the city contributed annually to Metcom.

Siron said the remaining construction includes the installation of the radio and phone system.

The center includes five consoles for the city's dispatchers and two consoles that will serve as backup stations for Metcom should that system go down.

The computer system that will be used in the dispatching includes an auto vehicle location system. Dispatchers will have a map in front of them that will tell them were every Bloomington squad car, fire truck and ambulance is located.

"They will then be able to dispatch the unit nearest to the emergency rather than the unit assigned to that district," Siron said. "Maybe an officer is leaving the (McLean County) jail. His or her district is on the east side, but they might be the nearest officer to respond to a fight call in downtown.

"That is going to improve response time," Siron said. "Also, it's going to reduce the number of times officers will be going lights and sirens from across town and that improves safety."

Hamilton said he believes the city will receive its authorization from the Illinois Commerce Commission to be a primary dispatch center in time to meet the July 1 operational goal.

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