Switch to county 911 passes first test with East Deer wreck
A traffic accident in East Deer was handled seamlessly by Allegheny County 911 dispatchers Thursday morning, about three hours after the township and eight other Valley municipalities switched from local dispatch centers to County 911.
Until 7 a.m. Thursday, Harrison and Tarentum dispatch centers handled police, fire and ambulance calls for Brackenridge, Cheswick, Fawn, Frazer, Springdale and Springdale Township, as well as Harrison, Tarentum and East Deer.
The change to County 911 had been planned for Feb. 8 but was delayed so county technicians could check the latest police and fire department channels and test fire station alert tones, said 911 communications manager Bob Harvey.
Thursday’s crash at about 10 a.m. was an unscheduled test.
East Deer police said Richard Owens, no age given, of New Kensington, was driving a car that crashed into a utility pole along Freeport Road near Sheetz.
Police said Owens left the scene but an unidentified woman passenger was trapped inside. She was later flown to Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh.
Witnesses told police Owens went to the store and next entered another car that last seen heading south on Freeport Road.
Dispatchers sent a Tarentum police officer, based in the Pittsburgh Mills mall, Frazer, to find the car.
The officer arrested Owens near the Ninth Street Bridge, New Kensington, said East Deer police Chief John Manchini.
“We had no problems with dispatching,” Manchini said.
“The system worked,” said Tarentum police Chief Bill Vakulick.
Manchini said Owens will be charged with leaving an accident, reckless driving and possibly other charges.
Owens, who appeared to have an injury to his arm or hand, was taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital, Harrison, for treatment and a blood-alcohol content test, police said.
Harvey said no major radio or emergency call problems were reported by police from the nine Valley municipalities, but
technicians were working to eliminate scratchy reception for new police radios in Harrison.
“The dispatchers could hear the police and the police could hear the dispatchers. It was just scratchy and we’re working to fix that,” he said.
“We usually give it about a week to fix any bugs,” he said.
Arraignment center impacted
The switch to county dispatching also means the video arraignment center in Tarentum will close unless officials can find money to save it.
Tarentum’s short-term holding cells have been in use for years by nearby police departments until an officer, constable or deputy sheriff can take suspects to the Allegheny County Jail.
Those holding cells will be closed unless the arraignment center is kept open although Harrison is making arrangements for its officers to use its holding cells on a limited basis.
Work to establish the arraignment center has been going on for more than a year.
Last year, the county chief of police association gave Tarentum a specialized computer, known as LiveScan, to identify suspects through photographs and fingerprints.
The county’s video arraignment equipment also has been installed so that an arraignment, or formal reading of charges, can be in Tarentum instead of at night court in Pittsburgh.
The equipment makes it possible for a suspect and district judge to see and hear each other. Paperwork can then be signed and electronically sent to the judge’s office.
The system can be used by any police officer.
A spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Tarentum’s booking center is “essential” for Tarentum and other municipalities.
Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said surrounding municipalities have planned on being able to use the borough’s holding cells, LiveScan and arraignment equipment.
He said conversations are under way about the center, but no agreement has been reached.
Tarentum manager Bill Rossey said it could cost about $80,000 annually to keep the center open on a 24-hour basis.
Tarentum and most of the eight other municipalities have signed contracts with New Kensington police to keep prisoners in temporary holding cells in that city at a rate of $60 for each prisoner.
That could be pricey, too, if there is space.
Last year Tarentum held 400 prisoners.
New Kensington has five holding cells for men and two for women.
Officials said they are concerned about the time it would take to drive a prisoner to New Kensington and return to the patrol area, especially in towns that have only one officer on patrol at times.