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The Detroit Lakes Minnesota State Patrol dispatch center, which currently employs five dispatchers, will be one of seven state dispatch centers being closed. Photo by Brian Basham

Goodbye to DL's dispatch center

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Emergency 911 calls for help from an area highway or interstate will soon be rerouted down towards the Twin Cities -- the Minnesota State Patrol Dispatch Center in Detroit Lakes is closing up shop.

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The DL location, which currently employs five dispatchers, is one of seven state dispatch centers being closed.

Starting in January, all calls from the Detroit Lakes and surrounding areas will be answered in Roseville, which will be the primary call center for the state. A second, smaller location will be in Rochester.

Minnesota State Patrol Chief Colonel Kevin Daly says not only will the consolidation save the state money, but he believes it will increase safety for residents.

"I believe it will speed up response time, especially in critical moments or in bad, winter weather," said Daly, who says typically there is only one dispatcher on at a time in Detroit Lakes, "so if they are on another call, on the radio with a trooper, or there are a bunch of calls coming in at one time, it can be overwhelming for the staff to dispatch those troopers."

Daly says because there will be multiple dispatchers on at the Roseville location, calls will be answered instantly, and with advanced technology, he says communication with Detroit Lakes troopers is just as immediate as if the dispatchers were right there.

But will dispatchers unfamiliar with the area be as effective in communicating critical information quickly?

And will people calling 9-1-1 be comfortable talking to somebody hundreds of miles away?

Time will tell, but in the meantime, Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon is preparing for a possible increase in workload for dispatchers in his department.

"The potential is that people might want to talk to somebody local -- I don't know," said Gordon. "I expect there to be at least a little impact here when this rolls out, but I just have to trust the judgment of the state patrol. They're the ones that have been keeping up on the technology; they're the experts on their own equipment and their own system."

The way it works is, if there is an accident, rolling dispute or erratic or drunk driver along an interstate or highway and somebody calls 911 from that location, there is a chance it will go directly to the state patrol if there happens to be a state patrol tower in that vicinity. If there isn't, the call goes to the sheriff's department, where it is then transferred over to the state patrol's "public safety answering point" -- commonly known as a dispatch center.

Officials with the state patrol tried a consolidation plan a few years back, but found resistance in the Legislature, according to Daly.

"But from the state patrol end of it, we never backed off it," said Daly, "if we didn't think this was in the best interest of citizens and that we'd be able to improve service to them, we wouldn't do it. But with technological advances, I believe it is the right thing to do."

It likely isn't in the best interest of the dispatchers affected by the move, although they have all been offered a position at one of the two consolidated call centers.

Whether or not the Detroit Lakes dispatchers will uproot and move for the job is unknown, as they were instructed to refer media questions to the public affairs officer in St. Cloud.

"That was the hardest part about this decision -- was how it affects those very qualified dispatchers and supervisors and their families, but they have a job guaranteed, they just have to make the decision for themselves and what's best for them," said Daly.

Public safety answering points in St. Cloud, Thief River Falls, Duluth, Marshall, Brainerd and Virginia will also be closed, affecting a total of 36 dispatchers.

Even though there won't be much of a savings in personnel (as the positions are simply shifting over to consolidated centers), Daly says the state will be able to cut down on equipment costs, as maintaining nine centers is "far more expensive than just two."

The organization will use a phased approach to slowly convert over to Roseville, with Detroit Lakes operations being moved over 100 percent by the first of the year.

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