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One Call?

Despite breakdown in the Lorenzen Wright case, municipalities still opt out of joint 911 call center.

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Emergency dispatchers in Germantown received a call from former Memphis Grizzlies basketball player Lorenzen Wright in the early hours of July 19th. Three days later, Wright's family reported him missing to the Collierville Police Department, but nine days passed before the Collierville police learned of Wright's 911 call to Germantown dispatchers.

Both municipalities have been invited to join a future countywide 911 call center, but neither is opting in.

Bartlett and Millington also plan to maintain separate call centers rather than move to the joint call center that will house the Memphis police and fire dispatch and the Shelby County sheriff and fire dispatch.

"The Lorenzen Wright situation illustrates the kind of problem that the consolidated call center is designed to address," said Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy, who chaired a county task force earlier this year charged with improving county and city 911 services. "The response time will go down when you have dispatchers working under one roof."

The Shelby County 911 Emergency Communications District board has contributed $23 million collected from telephone fees for the construction of the call center. Shelby County government has also committed an additional $4.7 million to the project, and the city of Memphis must match the county's contribution before construction on the center can break ground.

"The mayors in these little towns think this is a form of consolidation, which they're against. But this is not consolidation. This is public safety," said Henry Brenner, chair of the building committee for the 911 emergency communications district.

Patrick Lawton, city administrator for Germantown, said Germantown's 911 dispatchers also double as jailers at its 72-hour holding facility. To move to a consolidated 911 center would mean having to hire additional staff, he said.

"We'd be having to hire jailers to run the jail, and that would be a greater cost for us," Lawton said.

Collierville spent more than $2 million on state-of-the-art equipment and a new 911 call center in 2002.

"It would not be financially prudent for Collierville to unplug our system and begin contributing to a new countywide system," said Collierville spokesperson Mark Heuberger. Millington police also will maintain a separate call center, but calls to the town's fire department already are routed through the Shelby County fire department.

While construction on the call center is several years away, Brenner hopes that new technology will be developed to track cell-phone locations by the time the building opens. When someone calls 911 from a land line, their address shows up on the dispatcher's computer screen. When someone calls from a cell phone — such as Wright did — only longitude and latitude are available.

"People who give up their landlines and use cell phones as a main line have no idea what they're giving up for safety," Brenner said. "Everybody's blaming Germantown for the death of Lorenzen Wright, but it's a technology issue."

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