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Fix dispatch, don't undo

Published February 11. 2014 4:00AM

State Sen. Cathy Osten said she wants to ensure that problems with the recent consolidation of state police dispatch centers in eastern Connecticut are addressed. There is nothing wrong with that intent. Glitches are likely when changes are made to any complex system. When that system involves dispatching personnel to what can be life-or-death emergencies, it is critical that problems receive prompt attention, mistakes lead to lessons learned, and policies are adjusted as necessary.

But Sen. Osten, with co-sponsor Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, has filed a bill that says nothing about fixing the regional dispatch system, it calls for eliminating it.

Just read the Statement of Purpose included in Proposed Bill No. 51: "To require the Commission of Emergency Services and Public Protection to undo the 2013 consolidation of the regional emergency telecommunications centers."

That is a bad idea.

Last year state police closed dispatch centers in barracks in Montville, Colchester and Danielson and consolidated dispatching in a renovated, updated telecommunications center at Troop C in Tolland. The move frees up troopers, who had worked alongside dispatchers at the various barracks, getting them back patrolling roads and responding to emergencies.

Given modern technology, there is no reason dispatching cannot be handled by non-police professionals working from one centralized location; it happens all over the country. Sen. Osten, a Democrat who also serves as first selectman of Sprague, concedes a similar consolidation has moved forward smoothly in northwestern Connecticut.

In eastern Connecticut, however, there have come reports of dispatching troopers to the wrong address, of delayed police response times and of troopers spending too much time on prisoner transport because of a lack of staffing at barracks without dispatch centers.

State police union leaders have complained the loudest, which might help explain Sen. Osten's heightened interest. A former union leader when she worked for the state Department of Correction, Sen. Osten is a strong backer of organized labor. It is also true that her sprawling 19th District winds through towns affected by the dispatch consolidation.

By introducing a bill calling for undoing the consolidation, Sen. Osten said her intent is to force a discussion about the problems and get them addressed. Sen. Osten said she has met with incoming public safety commissioner Dora Schriro, who is awaiting legislative confirmation. She or the co-sponsor could amend the bill, noted the senator.

The better option is dropping the bill and working with the administration to fix the problems.

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