Although town officials have long been exploring the prospect of regionalizing municipal emergency radio dispatching for 911, police, fire, and ambulance calls to improve cost efficiency, Police Commission members this week voiced strong concerns about it, stressing that such an arrangement could do more harm than good in terms of town police operations.
Currently, all town 911, police, fire, and ambulance dispatching is done at the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street, in the same building that houses the police station. Two town-employed dispatchers staff the facility around the clock on 12-hour shifts. The town has nine emergency dispatchers.
Under a proposal advanced by Maureen Will, the town’s emergency communications director, the multiple functions of town emergency dispatching would be handled by Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc, in Prospect at an existing private facility.
Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico told commission members on April 1 that recently he, Police Chief Michael Kehoe and police Captain Joe Rios met with Neil Chaudhary and Jeffrey Capeci to discuss the regionalization issue. Mr Chaudhary is the Legislative Council’s vice chairman and Mr Capeci is a former Legislative Council chairman. The two men are serving as a ad hoc town study panel on the regionalization issue.
Mr Mangiafico said the town estimates that regionalization would save the town approximately $149,000 annually.
At the outset of the Police Commission’s discussion, Mr Mangiafico said, “Our position is that we do not favor” regionalization.
But, he added, police officials are willing to visit regional dispatch facilities to earn more about the concept.
Chief Kehoe said he is concerned about the town police department becoming a “beta site” or communications test case for the practicality of regionalizing police radio dispatching.
“I want to go slow,” he said. “There may be some efficiencies,” he added.
“The idea of consolidating functions … is basically a good idea,” Mr Mangiafico said, adding that he is cautiously considering the concept.
Chief Kehoe pointed out that a town proposal to consolidate Newtown’s dispatching with other area towns at a Danbury site was considered several years ago. That consolidation, however, never materialized.
Police Commission member Brian Budd, who is a police officer, said of the Prospect-based regionalization concept, “After 12/14, I don’t know why we’re having this conversation.”
Capt Rios said he would like to review the five-year business plan for the Prospect dispatching center.
Such a regionalization proposal poses many questions, said commission member Joel Faxon.
The Prospect dispatching center lies about 25 miles from the Newtown police station.
Jason Chickos, who is a town dispatcher, urged Police Commission members to carefully consider any regionalization plan.
“It’s going to affect a lot of people,” he said noting that some town dispatchers would lose their jobs if regionalization occurs. “There’s a lot of people who are going to lose jobs,” he said.
Mr Chickos said that people move to Newtown to raise families, adding that public safety is a concern among residents.
Because Newtown’s dispatching would occur in Prospect, there would be delays in dispatching, he said.
“After 12/14, it’s shame that we’re even thinking about it, “ Mr Chickos said of regionalization.
Chief Kehoe said that dispatching police on calls is different in nature than dispatching fire or ambulance crews.
Police telephone lines are always ringing, he said, adding that he is concerned about turning over police telephone calls to a private firm for dispatching.
Mr Budd stressed there is much that he does not like about regionalization. About 90 percent of the phone calls received by a dispatch center are police calls, he noted.
Mr Mangiafico said the Police Commission will have Messrs Chaudhary and Capeci attend a Police Commission session to discuss the regionalization proposal.
In response to police officials’ concerns about regionalization, Ms Will said on April 3, “We are so used to doing things one way, and change is hard.
“The [Prospect dispatching] staff is still going to care and hear the ‘tones’ in [police] officers’ voices,” she said of those dispatchers being able to discern the context of situations to which Newtown police officers are dispatched.
Fire and ambulance agencies have been regionalizing their dispatching for decades across the county, she said. Police agencies can be just as well served by regionalized dispatching, she said.
The Prospect center has dispatched fire and ambulance crews for many years. Middlebury police last year became the first police agency to be dispatched by the Prospect center.
Besides cost savings, regionalized dispatching will provide more staff for dispatching Newtown emergency services, Ms Will said.
The quality of regional dispatching would be just as good as local dispatching and potentially even better, she said.
Ms Will said that the trained staff at the Prospect center would be able to match the “exceptional” job which Newtown dispatchers did for the 12/14 incident.
The issue which police officials are facing essentially involves the “level of trust” which police have in dispatchers who are located outside of Newtown, she said.