Palmview is heading the charge to regionalize 9-1-1 communications in western Hidalgo County.
Law enforcement agencies must have a public safety answering point, or PSAP, in order to get calls to 9-1-1 directed to their local dispatch. Palmview one of only two entities west of Mission with the ability. The other law enforcement agency with a PSAP is the city of La Joya.
In the past, Peñitas has requested permission to receive 9-1-1 calls, but the state of Texas no longer grants PSAPs to individual municipalities.
“No matter how you look at it, services have to be regionalized,” said Palmview Mayor Jerry Perez. “Regionalization is key. I’ve always heard about it. There’s always been talk, back in the 2000s, but the political ego, they didn’t want to go there.”
Because cities like Peñitas and Sullivan City can’t get their own individual PSAP, they’ve gone through the county dispatch for 9-1-1 services. Calls go into the sheriff’s dispatch, and then they’re relayed to local officers.
But Palmview Police Chief Chris Barrera said there’s a push on the eastern side of Hidalgo County to regionalize the 9-1-1 service through Weslaco. That hub would extend from east to west from San Juan to Mercedes and north and south from Elsa to Progresso. The project inspired Barrera to look into regionalizing the western side of the county.
The Peñitas City Council agreed this week to move its services to Palmview, and Barrera said he’s approached Sullivan City and La Joya Independent School District to partner with Palmview as well. Sullivan City was scheduled to make a decision on the project this week.
City Manager Ramon Segovia said Palmview also reached out to the city of La Joya, but it would need to abandon its PSAP to go through Palmview’s hub.
Cities across the state have similar systems, he said, noting San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and El Paso.
“We want to take the lead and open the center here,” Barrera said. “It not only saves us money, but it opens up a lot of grant money.”
Barrera said it will also save Peñitas money. The city currently pays Hidalgo County $104,000 for the service. Palmview is charging $80,000.
Segovia said Palmview sweetened the deal by negotiating with Pro-Medic, which provides ambulance service to the city and recently added a second ambulance stationed at the city’s fire substation. Pro-Medic agreed to provide ambulance service to Peñitas as well. And just recently, Palmview started providing fire service to the city.
But Barrera emphasized Palmview is not trying to take over Peñitas, stating, “We’re just here to provide a service to better respond to emergencies.”
“They’re our neighbors; they’re our brothers, so why not?” Perez added.
Palmview hopes to have everything in place to start the service by Oct. 1, servicing Peñitas and Sullivan City. To meet the new demand, Palmview will increase its number of dispatchers from five to nine. There will be two dispatchers during every shift during the week and three on the weekends. One will be designated to Palmview, EMS and fire and the other will be assigned to Peñitas and Sullivan City.
Currently, Palmview has one dispatcher during the week and two on the weekends. On a slow day, Barrera said, Palmview has three officers out on calls and nine or 10 out on busy days. Peñitas has two and Sullivan City has one, so the Palmview dispatcher will be the busiest, he said.
The move to regionalization also improves communication between the law enforcement agencies, Segovia said. Just two weeks ago, Segovia said a chase ended in a bail out near Palmview High School and a La Joya ISD officer drove right by, unaware of the incident.
If 9-1-1 calls are going through Palmview, he said communication between the agencies will improve.
“It’s more a safety issue, emergency issue and a cost-effective issue for everybody,” Barrera said. “We won’t let anybody down.”