Rock County’s communications center director Sleeter to retire
JANESVILLE Dave Sleeter had a little time to kill while waiting for his job interview. He settled in and opened a copy of The Janesville Gazette.
“911 fails in Rock County,” the headline shouted.
Not encouraging news for the man hoping to get the job as the director of Rock County’s then-new 911 Communications Center.
Sleeter wasn’t discouraged.
“I thought, ‘You know, all it takes is the right pieces,’” he said. “Public safety agencies were still working hard to get it done. I thought it could happen.”
Sleeter stuck with it. Seventeen years later, many local public safety officials applaud his leadership and credit him for making the center an example of excellence around the country.
Sleeter retires this week. Communications center Supervisor Kathy Sukus has been appointed interim director, and the county is putting together a plan to recruit applicants for the director position, Rock County Administrator Craig Knutson said.
The center as a concept of single-point-of-service communications was built in 1993 in its existing location at 3636 N. County F on Janesville’s north side. When Sleeter started working for the county, the facility and staff were half the size they are today.
The new center’s reputation was less than stellar.
When the county decided to centralize communications, dispatching jobs were eliminated from Janesville, Beloit and other communities. Some dispatchers brought their knowledge to new jobs as county workers, but many quit altogether, Sleeter said.
As emergency responders had feared, new dispatchers weren’t familiar with the roads, the businesses and the personalities of the county’s separate communities, Sleeter said. The communication center’s policies were weak and included few industry best practices, he said. Turnover was high, and computer and technical issues bogged down the center’s progress.
One of Sleeter’s first orders of business was to get the center accredited by a national professional organization. The center was of the first in the nation to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, and it now holds the longest continuous accreditation in the United States.
Sleeter now works as CALEA assessor to monitor the accreditation status of other agencies.
Beyond the challenge of organizing things within the center’s brick walls, Sleeter had to get hundreds of then-unhappy police and fire administrators and emergency responders on board with the plan. It was as hard as it sounds, said Beloit Police Chief Norm Jacobs, as many of those officials wanted to maintain control of their dispatch units.
“Development of the 911 communications center was a Herculean task,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs has worked with Sleeter since 1995 and most recently worked with him as a member of the Rock County 911 Communications Commission.
The communications center works as well as it does because of long-term planning on Sleeter’s part, Jacobs said.
“I’m thoroughly impressed with his vision for communications in the county,” Jacobs said. “He’s always kept us moving forward and provided us with information to help make those changes.”
The communications center struggled to keep a director between its opening in 1993 and Sleeter’s arrival in 1995. One director resigned, then his temporary replacement had a heart attack and was replaced by another interim director.
Sleeter stopped that cycle, said Knutson, who hired Sleeter.
“He did a great job of bringing stability to the operation when it was new,” Knutson said.
Sleeter instituted a good training program for dispatchers, which is a key to a high quality communications center, Knutson said.
When things are going well, the communication center stays out of the news. Sleeter said he has enjoyed that behind-the-scenes position.
“We are a sleeping giant,” said Sleeter. “Police, fire and EMS are in the limelight, as they should be. We’re a very strong support system to keep them safe. My thought process was, ‘Let your actions speak louder than your words.’”
Sleeter hopes people will remember his role as one of progress and professionalism.
“I hope they (Rock County residents) get the feeling that the Rock County 911 center is a highly professional place, that it improved,” Sleeter said. “That it provides really good services for the people of Rock County.