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Escalon PD Joins With Ripon Dispatch
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In another cost-cutting move, Escalon Police Department has moved to have its dispatching services handled exclusively by the Ripon Police Department, effectively laying off a full-time employee.

Ripon had been dispatching Escalon after hours and on weekends, but the weekday duties had been handled for the past four-plus years by dispatcher Jamie Hansen. She was the latest city employee hit by the budget ax, her position done away with as the department moves to contract with Ripon for full time dispatching services.

"As of March 1, there will be a phone tree," Escalon Police Chief Jim Shaw explained.

The phone number for Escalon, 838-7093, will be answered but not necessarily by a person. Details were still being worked out at presstime, but the idea is to have the 'phone tree' set up so when callers reach the local department, they are presented with several options to make contact with someone, whether it is the chief, a shift supervisor or to make an appointment for fingerprinting.

Shaw and City Manager Henry Hesling said the layoff of the dispatcher is a cost cutting move, but it also means the department loses that first point of contact when residents walk in the door at the McHenry Avenue station. Now, instead of being able to go to the window outside the police department to make contact with Hansen at the dispatch desk, they will check in with the Recreation Department secretary Fran Gaither and then be referred to a police officer or supervisor.

For those needing help in an emergency or to report a crime in progress, still dial 9-1-1.

And while Shaw and Hesling aren't happy about losing another employee, the fiscal move of choice was to contract the dispatching work out and since Ripon has already been serving the city, the next step was a natural one.

Escalon earlier lost its fulltime code enforcement officer, that position also eliminated.

But, Shaw said, the bright side of the situation has another full time officer in the works, with one in a background check right now. Three years of grant funding, with the final year of a four-year agreement picked up by the city, will get that fulltime officer on the job.

"We hope to have the officer on board in the next month or so," said Shaw.

Police Services Manager Dorothy Vandagriff said in terms of the new dispatching system, it was still being fine tuned on Tuesday morning, March 1. Until the changes are complete, callers to the department may have their call answered by a Ripon dispatcher or may get the phone tree that will give them prompts to press '1' to report a crime, '2' to reach Vandagriff, and so on.

"There are options for the chief, a shift supervisor, animal services, code enforcement, fingerprinting," said Vandagriff.

Like any change, officials said, it will take time getting used to, but Shaw said hopefully it will be a seamless transition, especially considering the fact that Ripon dispatchers handle Escalon's nighttime and weekend dispatch services already.

Shaw also noted the department remains active, even though crime rates have seen a drop in the past year. A recent felony arrest came after a report of shots fired in the area of Countrywood and St. John; officers responded and found three people in a vehicle, with a firearm. The investigation led to the arrest of Donald R. Lemos II, 24, of Modesto on suspicion of felony discharging a firearm with negligence and carrying a loaded firearm in a public place. He was booked at San Joaquin County Jail. The other two people in the car were released and authorities said the incident stemmed from an earlier altercation.

"We found expended shells and the gun in the car," Shaw said.