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Steuben County commissioners reject sheriff, keep 911 center in its hands

– Steuben County communications will stay under the jurisdiction of the county commissioners, despite the sheriff’s plea to hand it over to his department.

Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer issued a statement last week saying emergency 911 dispatchers were working up to 16-hour shifts and only three of the 12 full-time positions were filled.

Troyer indicated the department’s lack of manpower, direction and resources were a threat to public safety.

He had asked that the department be turned over to his office.

The communications department used to be under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department but was handed over to commissioners after a new jail was built in 1992.

Nearly 60 people – including many county workers and elected officials – crowded into the small commissioners chambers at Monday’s meeting.

Commissioners board President Ronald Smith welcomed the crowd, then looked toward Troyer and several deputies and said: “The answer is no. This is staying in the hands of the commissioners.”

Troyer’s request had been backed by others, including Angola Police Chief Stu Hamblen and county Prosecutor Michael Hess, who agreed the commissioners should relinquish control and turn the center back over to the sheriff’s department.

Troyer outlined long-term and short-term measures he would take to stabilize the center.

“If you’re wrong, it can cost lives,” Troyer told commissioners. “If I’m wrong, we are just better prepared.”

Commissioners held a special meeting later in the day to hire Ken Lowden as interim 911 director. Longtime dispatcher and communications Director Cindy Snyder resigned last week.

Ken Lowden, a consultant, previously was communications director for Steuben County before taking a job with the state of Indiana, Smith said.

Lowden will work with the commissioners to resolve issues in the communications department, Smith said.

The commissioners are also forming a safety committee that will be made up of department heads and different agency representatives, Smith said.

“They will serve as an advising group to the commissioners,” Smith said. “This problem will never happen again,” referring to personnel conflicts and shortages in the communications department.

Fellow commissioners Loretta Smart and James Crowl agreed with Smith.

“We are consciously keeping Steuben County positive. We were too lenient, and now the task is to rebuild,” Smart said.

“We are not prepared to relinquish control,” Crowl said.

Troyer said that over the past week, the 911 center had lost another new trainee and one dispatcher had worked 24 hours straight.

Troyer said he has four deputies who are fully trained as dispatchers and fill in as needed.

Smith asked whether Troyer would be willing to assist in seeking leadership for the communications center.

“That’s what I’m here to provide,” Troyer said.

Troyer said the commissioners make decisions at twice-monthly meetings, and that timing does not work well with a 24/7 emergency communications center.

“We need to hire and train more dispatchers right now,” he said.

Communications requires around-the-clock, day-to-day fluid management, Troyer said, something the commissioners cannot provide.

“They are not addressing the situation in an aggressive manner,” he said.