By Holly Crocco
A plan to move the sheriff’s department dispatchers to the 911 call center at the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services that is taking longer than expected has county lawmakers questioning whether the goal is achievable.
“There are still a lot of moving parts,” explained BES Commissioner Ken Clair at the November meeting of the county’s Protective Services Committee.
The plan is to have all dispatchers under one roof, so if someone calls 911 for a fire or medical emergency, or they call the sheriff’s office for a police matter, they will all be received at the Emergency Operations Center at the BES, located in the Donald B. Smith Campus on Old Route 6 in Carmel.
Clair explained that, while working through the technical issues of the merger has taken longer than expected, there is also the issue of merging personnel.
The merger will bring workers from two different unions together, and questions have arisen regarding who the different dispatchers will answer to, who will hold seniority, and other personnel matters.
“If the (sheriff’s) dispatchers are going under the umbrella of EMS, I imagine EMS would have control,” said Legislator Paul Jonke, R-Brewster.
“This is what we need to talk about, off the record, because it’s a bigger topic than I think we understand,” said Claire.
He said the plan originally called for a step program in which the sheriff’s deputies would go to the Emergency Operations Center and eventually become 911 center dispatchers, but that may not be the most desirable option for all the employees.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, expressed disappointment over what she was hearing at the meeting.
“This is concerning because when we first learned of this, when this was proposed, our objective was to improve efficiencies and now it seems like there’s a little internal minutia going on that needs to be addressed,” she said. “It seems very territorial.”
Sheriff Robert Langley Jr., however, said that’s not the case.
“First and foremost, it’s not territorial,” he said. “Public safety is number one.”
Langley said the sheriff’s department and the BES are ironing out the decision-making processes, as well as a chain of command that all employees are comfortable with.
Nacerino seemed unconvinced.
“Wasn’t it the objective to have these dispatchers dually trained to do each other’s job?” she asked. “So why is there this segregation of who’s manning the police and who’s manning the other dispatchers?”
Langley said the object remains the same, but the path to get there is not a straight and narrow as they had hoped it would be.
“They are two separate animals,” he said of EMS calls and police calls. “I think Kenny can agree with me that fire service has different demands than that of law enforcement. They talk different languages, basically.”
However, the sheriff said he fully believes the vision is possible. “It can work, and it will work,” he said. “We have to get everything set up at the 911 center. We have to make sure the phone tree is working. And we have to start on a trial basis.”
“Is this something that can happen, or is this something that we’re just dreaming about that’s not going to happen?” asked Jonke. “Because I don’t want to spend any more taxpayer money on a project that’s not going anywhere.”
“I’m 100 percent vested in this,” replied Langley. “I see this as the right direction to go.”
Jonke further asked: “If everything goes just peachy, when is this going to happen?”
Both Claire and Langley said they can’t give a definitive answer.
“Summertime?” guessed Claire.
“Personally, I was thinking we’d be in there already,” added Langley. “We want this to work flawlessly for the interest of public safety.”
Nacerino said she is still concerned about the coordination of employees.
“It’s a hard effort to coordinate, I get it,” she said. “But we’ve been discussing this for a long time and there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Langley said he’s just as frustrated as legislators are with the process, but he’s optimistic.
“I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The equipment has been ordered. Hopefully the workers aren’t on strike.”
Lawmakers expect another update from the involved parties in January.