Groton Town Council seeks meeting on combined dispatch

Groton - The Groton Town Council decided Tuesday to ask city officials to meet and discuss having the town take over the city's emergency dispatch system.

The meeting is expected to be requested in the next two weeks.

Town councilors asked for the meeting after hearing from Groton Emergency Management Director Joseph Sastre, who said the town could take over city police dispatch at no additional cost. Mayor Heather Bond Somers said city dispatch costs $254,000.

City Mayor Marian Galbraith, reached by phone after the meeting, said she drafted a letter Tuesday on the same subject. She said city dispatchers do more than answer calls; they man the front window at the station, and it would be more expensive to replace them with officers. Dispatchers also handle parking tickets, take care of prisoners and provide permit applications, she said.

"It isn't just a matter of, 'We're going to be able to clear the front desk,' because somebody has to be there," Galbraith said. She added that she didn't even know if the radio frequencies for the two police communications systems are the same.

"They'd have to make sure they could handle our calls," Galbraith said. "If they can handle our calls with no more staff, then what is that staff doing now?"

At issue is an ongoing and heated dispute between city and town leaders over consolidating services and whose system works best. Groton has a town and a city police department and separate dispatch centers for each.

Somers said city officials implied during the budget process that its dispatch system was superior and the town "couldn't possibly" take over dispatch.

Sastre explained the difference between the systems this way: When an emergency call comes into city police, the dispatch and records systems are linked, so dispatch information is automatically deposited into a records system for police, which officers then use when writing reports. In the town, officers have access to the dispatch system, but records are not automatically deposited.

But Sastre said that as a practical matter, little usable information is actually moved from dispatch to records. He said information collected during dispatch often changes when officers reach a scene and reports must be written. He estimated the records integration saves "30 to 40 seconds" of typing.

Galbraith said she'd have to ask City Police Chief Thomas Davoren how much time it saves, but it's not 40 seconds.

"We find it's very practical and very efficient," Galbraith said. "What can you do in 30 to 40 seconds in a report?"

Town Councilor Karen Morton said she doesn't understand why the city wouldn't want the town to take over dispatch if it could, because it would save money.

The town center dispatches calls for town police, Groton Long Point police, all fire departments including the city fire department, ambulances, paramedics from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and fire and ambulance for North Stonington, Sastre said.

He said regional dispatching is done elsewhere.

"This is not a new concept," Sastre said. "And across the country, this is being done."

Councilor Bruce Flax said the idea is to "work toward efficiencies in whatever quantities we can get them."

Galbraith said the issues are surmountable but must be discussed. "But I think they are things that require an investment and would require us to work on an agreement," she said. "Why would we want to be less efficient?"

d.straszheim@theday.com

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