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Police Officials Skeptical About Dispatching Change

Police Commission members this week discussed the many issues stemming from a proposal to move local emergency radio dispatching for 911 police, fire, and ambulance calls from Newtown to a private, nonprofit, nonunionized dispatching center in Prospect, generally expressing skepticism that such a change would be beneficial.

Four of the five Police Commission members met with Jeffrey Capeci and Neil Chaudhary, who are serving as an ad hoc study panel for the selectmen on the proposal to move dispatching from the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at Town Hall South at 3 Main Street about 25 miles away to the regional dispatching operation known as to the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc.

Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico said he had expected that the panel would make a recommendation to the town on the proposed change at the May 13 session. But commission members’ requests for additional financial information on possible cost advantages of such a change resulted in the need for more study.

At the outset of the session, the Police Commission heard public comments on the proposed dispatching change.

Newtown resident Douglas Fuchs, who is the Redding police chief, told commission member he has done research on such proposed radio dispatching changes.

“There really is no cost savings,” he said.

If dispatching is shifted to Prospect and the Newtown police station consequently has no staff present around the clock to interact with members of the public who enter the building’s lobby, it would cause problems, Mr Fuchs said.

“It will not ‘fly’ for residents,” he said.

If the police department should then opt to hire people to interact with the “walk-in” public around the clock, it would cost the town money to so, he said, adding that the nine town dispatchers have roles other than dispatching.

“I would suggest that …this [dispatching change] is not really a good thing,” he said.

Mr Fuchs also raised the issue of what would happen to the nine dispatchers who would be laid off by the town if a dispatching change occurs.

If dispatch regionalization occurs, the town jobs held by nine dispatchers would end. Those dispatchers, however, would be able to seek employment at the Prospect center. It is unclear how many former Newtown dispatchers would be hired in Prospect.

Jason Chickos, a town dispatcher, told Police Commission members that he does not want to be out of a job.

Dispatching regionalization, according to Mr Chickos, is “an awful idea,” especially in light of the town’s experience in the 12/14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook School.

Such a dispatching change would pose the risk of delays in emergency calls being handled, he said, adding that a dispatching change would not result in costs savings and might result in increased costs in the long term.

The 43-member Newtown Police Union has said it opposes moving dispatching to Prospect, charging that it would damage the quality of dispatching.

The town dispatchers’ union similarly opposes the proposed change.

The Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps chief has said that local dispatching works well, in questioning the need to move it to Prospect.

Fire officials from the town’s five volunteer fire companies are reviewing the proposed dispatching change.

 

Commissioner Questions

Commission member Joel Faxon asked whether there are any locations besides Prospect where the town might move its dispatching to a regional operation. He asked what other locations would provide better dispatching for Newtown and also provide cost advantages.

Mr Chaudhary said town officials also are considering a possible move to a privately run dispatching operation in Litchfield County. That dispatching center covers calls for many municipal fire and ambulance services, as well as Torrington Police Department.

“We’ll look at as many of these alternatives as we can find,” Mr Capeci said.

Commission member James Viadero said that the proposal to move dispatching to Prospect is based on cost savings and providing better dispatching services.

Mr Viadero said that Newtown already gets good dispatching service. He asked whether town officials know of any potential cost savings from such a move.

“The savings are only a small part of it,” Mr Capeci said. “Number one is the safety of the residents of Newtown.”

“The cost savings are not the ‘driver’ [of the proposal], but something that certainly has to be looked at,” Mr Mangiafico said.

Mr Mangiafico observed that if moving dispatching to Prospect results in no town staff being available to the public inside the police station around-the-clock, people entering the police station would then need to pickup a telephone and speak to a dispatcher located in Prospect.

Keeping town staff members in the police station around the clock would negate the costs savings of moving dispatching to Prospect, he said.

Mr Mangiafico noted that the dispatch center at 3 Main Street receives many calls annually, adding that if dispatching were to shift to Prospect, the Prospect center would need to hire four more dispatchers and one or two more supervisors.

The Prospect center currently handles calls for about 20 fire and ambulance agencies and Middlebury Police Department.

Mr Mangiafico said it appears that moving dispatching to Prospect would result in no costs savings and could result in increased costs.

“There’s no compelling evidence…that Newtown will save any money, Mr Mangiafico said.

Police Commission member Brian Budd asked what would occur if Newtown shifted its dispatching to Prospect and the change then failed to succeed. Newtown would then need to reorganize its dispatching in Newtown, he observed.

Mr Budd suggested there would be communications delays in a Prospect-based system. Town taxpayers expect high quality municipal services, he said.

 

Computer Concerns

Police Chief Michael Kehoe said he has a “big concern” involving computer system compatibility between the Prospect dispatching center and the Newtown police station.

In light of public safety issues, Mr Faxon raised concerns about the financial stability of the Prospect center following his review of its nonprofit-organization financial records. Mr Faxon questioned the center’s business skills.

He noted that the Prospect center gets almost one-third of its revenue through state grants, questioning whether that large subsidy might decrease in the future, resulting in added costs for the towns it serves.

Mr Mangiafico observed that Maureen Will, the town director of emergency communications, is a member of the Prospect center’s board of directors and is simultaneously advocating that the town move its dispatching to Prospect.

Mr Mangiafico said he does not know if that situation poses a “conflict of interest,” adding, “It is a little bit of an odd situation.”

Asked for comment on the matter on May 14, Ms Will said, “I do not believe it’s a conflict. Every time something comes up on Newtown [while serving on the board], I recuse myself, I leave the room,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s a conflict.”

Prospect center board members receive no pay.

Additionally, Mr Mangiafico questioned the wisdom of the town eliminating nine dispatching jobs without a clear and compelling reason to do.

“We have a system that works,” he said.

Mr Mangiafico said that Middlebury police’s transition from Middlebury-based dispatching to Prospect dispatching did not go smoothly when it occurred last year.

Also, Mr Faxon noted that in 2013, the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at Town Hall South was named the top dispatching center in the US by a professional emergency dispatching association.

“It doesn’t seem to me a common sense decision to move from a center of excellence to a [facility] with an uncertain future,” Mr Faxon said.

Last September the Newtown dispatch center received the Call Center of the Year Award from the 911 Institute in light of the center’s actions stemming from the 12/14 shooting incident.

Mr Mangiafico urged that Mr Capeci and Mr Chaudhary return to the Police Commission with more information on the cost implications of moving dispatching to Prospect.

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