Changes in the dispatching system within the state Highway Patrol are expected to save the state money and free troopers to patrol the road.
Communication experts removed the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system early Monday morning from the Norwalk post. Dispatchers used the system to type crash and traffic stop information and to speak to troopers.
The Norwalk post installed CAD in the fall of 2004. It is a $400 million radio system used throughout the state patrol. CAD, designed about 20 years ago, is capable of running every local post's CAD system from the patrol headquarters in Columbus.
"It allowed us to go to the next step and it allowed us the technology to dispatch from other locations," said Lt. Jim Bryan, the Norwalk post commander.
As of Monday, the Mansfield post started handling calls from the public and dispatching duties for the Norwalk post. A similar consolidation is expected for the Ashland post in February. About the same time, the Fremont and Marion posts will be consolidated into Sandusky and Bucyrus, respectively.
"All that is the next move," Bryan said. "There will be no fewer or more dispatchers than we have now. It's just a change of work assignment."
Since about six or eight months ago, four full-time Norwalk dispatchers started being reassigned. One was fired.
Bryan said consolidating patrol dispatchers is efficient, calling it the start of a trend for the state to follow. He estimated the move will save the patrol about $1 million. He said it also will eliminate the need for troopers to handle dispatching duties, known as "sitting desk," and the mandatory overtime for dispatchers.
In 2006, troopers throughout the state spent about 21,000 hours "sitting desk." The patrol also mandated nearly 4,000 hours of mandatory overtime for dispatchers last year.
Bryan expects the consolidation to satisfy both troopers and dispatchers. He also said the Norwalk post's service might actually be enhanced because there will be more troopers on the road.
"And hopefully we've made the public happy by saving a lot of money," the post commander added.
Previously, the sergeants the Norwalk assistant post commanders handled dispatching duties when an assigned dispatcher wasn't available.
"We anticipate our sergeants to spend more time on the road in a more supervisory role," Bryan said. "The process should be seamless for the public. They can still call the same (telephone) number."
Motorists needing to report a Huron County-related crash, road rage incident or other complaints should call (419) 668-3711. That number will be forwarded to Mansfield dispatchers, who also can send the call back to the Norwalk post, if needed.
While most of the Norwalk troopers will be on patrol, there will be employees at the post to handle in-person questions.
Resident Dispatcher George Smith will handle administrative duties, such as filing and various paperwork. He will be working afternoon shifts, from 2 p.m. until midnight Monday through Thursday. Smith has been with the patrol since 1985 and transferred to the Norwalk post in 1999.
Michelle Hall, the post secretary, is working 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and can handle public inquiries.