As of yesterday, I’ve participated in two ride-alongs with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. During my undergrad days, it was a requirement for my degree in criminal justice. I’d since forgotten what the experience was like.

As of yesterday, I’ve participated in two ride-alongs with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. During my undergrad days, it was a requirement for my degree in criminal justice. I’d since forgotten what the experience was like.

A ride-along is a great way to learn about the operations and day-to-day challenges of any law enforcement agency. While everyone wants their ride-along to be like an episode of “Cops,” the reality is that most nights are typically uneventful – meaning nothing crazy happens like a high-speed car chase down the interstate. However, we did have multiple stops during the night.

Jackson County covers 660 square miles, and the sheriff’s jurisdiction encompasses all the unincorporated areas as well as providing backup for the 15 municipalities and three townships. Calls to 911 and the dispatch of police and other emergency personal for their department and seven municipalities are handled by the Sheriff’s Office.

A ride-along also demonstrates the critical role that dispatchers and other communications personnel play in ensuring citizens’ and officers’ safety. Today, law enforcement officials use digital communication technology producing shorter response times, improving coverage areas and creating limitless opportunities to communicate with other agencies such as fire and rescue. Unfortunately, the sheriff’s dispatch radio system is relatively unchanged since the 1970s.

The county’s outdated system creates safety problems for citizens and deputies.

Communication with other agencies is conducted by phone from dispatch, and it does not allow patrol deputies to hear the information being relayed from the communication. The information received from the call is then repeated to the deputy, slowing response time. In emergencies, inter-agency situations, and police operations, such as vehicle pursuits and emigrating crime situations, the various agencies inside Jackson County are unable to communicate with one another. Emergency response creates high-stress situations, so poor communication is not helpful to citizens or law enforcement officers.

If a deputy responds to assist another agencies officer, the deputy can only communicate with that officer if they call the dispatcher for the other agency on their personal cell phone. Replacing the outdated system with an updated digital radio system could correct the communication deficiencies and increase the overall response time for all public safety agencies in the county.

The current radio system needs to be upgraded. It is a flawed and dangerous situation that places Jackson County citizens’ and deputies’ safety at risk.

Ideally, this would include housing the communications center, the countywide dispatch and the 911 emergency call center under one roof, which would reduce costs and limit the duplication of services. However, the funding for such an expenditure is currently hard pressed.