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Police and Law Enforcement Home  >  The Column  >  The Story Everyone Should Be Watching: Lawrence to Privatize Dispatch

The Column

Police and Law Enforcement News
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
  9:31 a.m.


How would you feel about losing your dispatchers and finding out that your agency is not being transitioned over to the county? 

Instead, a private company will be paid to provide dispatching services for your department.

That is exactly what is happening right now in Lawrence Township, a 22-square-mile town located in Mercer County, New Jersey.

This story should concern not only dispatchers, but corrections officers, road cops, sheriff's officers and just about all who are involved in the enforcement end of the criminal justice process. 

But, mostly, it should concern New Jersey's citizens.

The upside for the towns: cheaper (until the contract ends and the price substantially increases), less headaches, less logistics, and less personnel issues.

The downside: lower quality service (we'll get back to this one), degraded public safety, degraded safety for the officers on the road, and the nightmare of constantly battling with the entity providing the service.

Yes, lower quality service.  This lesson is nothing new.  Better salaries attract better people. 

When we paid our cops next to nothing, there was corruption everywhere.  Today, the stories of stealing, taking bribes and shaking down businesses have all but disappeared.  And part of the reason they have disappeared is because higher quality people don't want to work with criminals, no matter what title they have.

It's the same with dispatchers.  The better paying agencies get the cream of the crop.  And a good dispatcher is worth his or her weight in gold to a proactive street cop.

We have already seen examples of lower quality service with agencies that have transitioned the dispatch function over to the county radio room. 

In order to keep the contract profitable for the county, communications operators are being given too many officers and too many jurisdictions to monitor at once.  As a result, they're late to reply on the radio, putting out incomplete information, and not able to monitor officers on calls and stops as they normally would.  There is just too much on their plate.

This, in turn, aggravates the road cops, and the quarrelling begins.

There are many who believe that mergers, regionalization, and privatizing are the answer to New Jersey's problems.  While these strategies may be part of the answer, officials have to be extremely careful when applying them to public safety.

Just because something is cheaper doesn't mean it is better.

Make no mistake: privatizing the law enforcement function comes with consequences.  This is not a union chant, it is a fact.

Everyone should be watching this situation closely.

Below is an excerpt of an article from the The Times of Trenton:

Lawrence prepares for privatization of dispatch services to take effect

LAWRENCE — Only one or two members of the township’s police dispatching crew have re-applied for jobs with iXP Corp., the Cranbury company due to take over dispatching operations for Lawrence in less than a month’s time.

iXP plans to hire a full-time dispatching crew of nine, with one to three on duty at any time, but with only a small fraction of the current staff staying aboard, the township will be losing a lot of long-term experience and people who are intimately familiar with township operations and systems.

But township officials, as they edge closer to the date for iXP’s takeover April 1, a move expected to save money and free up police officers for more patrol work, say they are confident that the changeover will be beneficial and provide a higher quality of dispatch service.

Lawrence would become the first town in the state to privatize its dispatch operations — the service that directs police and other services to crime spots, fires, traffic snarls, and people facing medical emergencies.

Late last month, the town and iXP signed a five-year contract worth $719,400 a year. Under the deal, Lawrence will pay iXP $59,950 a month. It is expected to bring savings of over $1.1 million a year, based on a five-year projection of costs.

Payment for the new dispatch operators would be significantly less than the township-paid employees have received — a point of contention during the drawn-out discussions on whether to privatize.

Lawrence’s dispatchers make about $47,000 a year, with a senior dispatcher netting about $56,000. Larry Consalvos, iXP’s president and chief operating officer, said his company will offer dispatchers a starting salary of around $38,000 a year.

Overall, the company has heard from over 400 applicants, 40 of whom had some sort of dispatching experience. Of those 40 though, only one or two were from the current Lawrence setup, Consalvos said.

Although the move to privatize the town’s dispatch was strongly opposed by some members of the public and current town dispatchers, who expressed concerns over levels of safety, quality of service and potential employment, Consalvos said his company aims to deliver on its promises of better service.

“Some of those fears are based upon the normal perception of change, and the fear it generates. Our folks are from the community and they will work and, in a number of cases, live in the community,” Consalvos said.

But the debate was fierce when the decision to go private was made in January.

Andrew Lee, the Fraternal Order of Police union president, said at the time that privatizing was a “hasty” move and that the township should have investigated options for keeping the existing dispatch staff on payroll.

“I’ve worked with them and I can tell you any time I’ve gone to a call, I felt comfortable. They know what they’re doing. To lose that would be an absolute deficit to this town,” Lee said in January.

Consalvos has said all iXP employees will undergo training and certification courses on database usage, privacy, CPR, basic telecommunications, and emergency medical dispatching.

For the full article, click here.








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