Following discussion at an August 5 Police Commission session, commission members told a two-member town study panel that they do not want the town’s radio dispatching for emergency 911, police, fire, and ambulance calls to change its location from the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street to either a Prospect dispatching center, which is 25 miles away, or to a Torrington dispatching center, which is 39 miles away.
Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico and commission members Brian Budd, James Viadero, Joel Faxon, and Andrew Sachs met with town ad hoc study panel members Jeffrey Capeci and Neil Chaudhary. The two-member study panel plans to submit a report to the Board of Selectmen on the advisability of the town entering some regional dispatching arrangement, which have would Newtown dispatching done elsewhere.
The Board of Selectmen is expected to discuss the dispatching issue when it meets on August 18.
The proposed dispatching change has been under public discussion by local emergency services groups during the past several months.
At a June session, Police Commission members generally expressed skepticism about the value of moving dispatching operations out of town.
In a July 28 letter to First Selectman Pat Llodra, the Board of Fire Commissioners expressed many concerns about moving dispatching to Prospect, with a major concern being that the 25-mile distance between Newtown and Prospect would increase the prospect of communications lines failing either due to storms or motor vehicle accidents.
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Mike Collins recently questioned the need to move dispatching to Prospect.
The 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, noting that its nine members’ town jobs would end if dispatching moves to Prospect.
Notably, on August 5, when Police Commission members discussed the proposal to move dispatching out of town, they addressed whether it should be relocated to Litchfield County Dispatch on Water Street in downtown Torrington or to the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center on Route 68 in Prospect.
At previous Police Commission sessions, commission members had focused on the Prospect center as a dispatching location for Newtown emergency calls.
Mr Mangiafico said that after having toured the Torrington facility, he was more impressed with it than with the Prospect facility.
Mr Mangiafico, Mr Budd, Police Chief Michael Kehoe, and Captain Joe Rios recently toured the Torrington center.
The Torrington facility dispatches about 40 Litchfield County fire and ambulance services, as well as the Torrington Police Department.
The Torrington center receives about one-half of its funding through state grants, while the Prospect center receives about one-third of its funding through state grants. The balance of those centers’ funding is provided through member towns’ payments for dispatching services.
Mr Mangiafico told Mr Capeci and Mr Chaudhary that Newtown has an obligation to protect the interests of its employees, including its dispatchers.
In view of the town dispatchers’ performance following the 12/14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook School, the town dispatch center was recognized for its superior performance in the form of an national award, Mr Mangiafico noted.
Mr Mangiafico said he generally likes the “concept” of regionalization, but added that the Torrington center lies 39 miles away from Newtown.
He said he is troubled by the short-term and the long-term risks that would be posed by Newtown having its dispatching done in Torrington.
The chairman said he sees no compelling reason for Newtown to regionalize its dispatching.
Mr Capeci responded that any cost savings for the town that regionalization would produce is not the reason to make such a change. He noted though that when towns regionalize their dispatching, it results in reduced expenses for state taxpayers.
Mr Capeci said that in the short-term, regionalization, in many cases, does not result in cost reductions for towns, but could result in cost reductions in the future. “It’s worth discussing…It’s worth investigating,” he said, adding that such a change needs to be well thought out and well planned.
Making the transition from local dispatching to regional dispatching “could take a period of time,” he said. “It should be investigated. There are risks, but there are rewards.”
Mr Chaudhary said that he and Mr Capeci will be submitting a report to the selectmen on the regionalization issue.
Mr Mangiafico suggested that Newtown be the nucleus of a regional emergency dispatching operation in which other nearby towns would have their emergency calls dispatched at a Newtown facility.
Mr Capeci pointed out that Newtown would then be in the position of needing to recruit towns that want their dispatching done in Newtown.
Mr Budd noted that if Newtown were to have its calls dispatched by the Torrington center, that center’s annual call volume would increase from 80,000 to 120,000 calls.
Mr Chaudhary said that if Newtown calls were dispatched at some regional center elsewhere, there would be more dispatching staff on hand to handle calls than Newtown now has available during a work shift.
Of moving dispatching out of Newtown, Mr Mangiafco said, “None of us feel it is a worthwhile venture at this point in time, based on what we know.”
In response, Mr Capeci asked whether the issue is worth researching.
“No,” Mr Mangifico responded.
Mr Faxon said he has yet to find an organization outside of Newtown that he would want to have handle Newtown’s dispatching.
Mr Faxon said that perhaps there is some organization that would handle such work well, but it has not yet been identified.