Richland Co. sheriff is not alone in his unhappiness with Columbia-Richland 911

Richland Co. sheriff is not alone in his unhappiness with Columbia-Richland 911

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Richland County's sheriff is not happy with the performance of the 911 system that dispatches his deputies, but he's not alone.

On Friday, two former Columbia-Richland 911 Communications Center employees also lobbed critical comments at their former workplace.

Speaking by phone but asking their names not be used, the former dispatchers told WIS News 10 the 911 system needs major changes.

In a letter to Richland County Council members, Sheriff Leon Lott called on them to vote against renewing a contract put in place in the late 1990's, making the 911 service a joint operation with the City of Columbia.

Lott cites what he calls "the inability of the communications center to properly and effectively meet our needs and that of the citizens."

The center is located at the main Columbia Fire Department headquarters on Laurel Street. Director Kimberly Gathers says the service currently employs 96 people.

But one former "telecommunicator" or dispatcher says the system needs more staff, better management, and equipment.

"Absolutely people's lives are being put at risk," he says. "You ask any dispatcher off the record right now. I can guarantee they've got at least ten stories of someone's life in danger and because our equipment doesn't work very well or there's something in the way the calls are sent out, people could die…there's no money, no resources."

Another former dispatcher says she used to work near a supervisor who would sit at his console with an iPad and watch TV.

"They (management) just needed a body in a seat," she told us.

Gathers defended the operation.

"I feel like we've made tremendous progress," she says. "We meet with Richland County on a monthly basis for service improvement needs. We share and discuss issues and challenges and also successes on both sides."

Gathers says the sheriff "is entitled to his opinion."

In a statement Thursday, Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said the city was "open to reviewing and understanding" Lott's request.

A spokeswoman for Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook declined to comment Friday. Lott's letter indicates Holbrook agrees that main users including the police department need more control of the system.

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