Groton emergency management director outlines costs of combining dispatch

Groton — After hearing four options for consolidating town and city police dispatch systems, town councilors asked for a written plan to guide how to move forward.

Director of Emergency Management Joseph Sastre told the Town Council on Tuesday that the city and town police departments could combine dispatch services for an initial cost of $19,000 to $400,000, depending the level of integration of the radio systems.

He outlined four options. The first and least expensive option, for $19,000, would connect the city radio system to town dispatch using a relatively simple method, but would not integrate the systems. City and town officers would be unable to hear and speak to each other by radio.

The second option, for $36,000, would offer a slightly upgraded version of the first, but still keep town and city radio systems separate. The third option, for $130,000, would merge the radio systems so officers could hear one another, but would not upgrade the systems.

The final option, for an estimated $325,000 to $400,000, would upgrade town dispatch, extend its coverage to the city and allow officers from both departments to hear and speak to one another. The option would require the town to buy new mobile and portable radios for city officers.

"This is the best and most efficient scenario to integrate the two agencies," Sastre wrote in an April 8 memo.

Groton has three police departments, in the town, city and Groton Long Point, and the inability to combine tasks has frustrated some town leaders who want to save money. A study by the Police Executive Research Forum recently recommended the town and city consolidate dispatch and jail services and collaborate on criminal and narcotics investigations.

Every person who calls 911 in Groton goes to town dispatch, which then transfers city callers to dispatchers in the city police department, Sastre said.

"The more important factor is the safety factor, not just for the officers but for the citizens," he said. "As it currently exists, we're pushing traffic around and around and around, and it's crazy."

Councilor Heather Bond Somers said integrating city and town dispatch is "the right thing to do."

"This council's going to look at spending some to save in the long run," she said. She suggested the council set aside money immediately to get started. Councilor Bruce Flax said he also wants to move forward.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he would meet with Sastre in the next couple of days and come up with a project outline that would require $200,000 this year and $200,000 next year to integrate and upgrade the radio systems, so the town could discuss the idea with the city.

City Mayor Marian Galbraith said Wednesday she didn't hear the Town Council discussion Tuesday because she was attending a meeting with Representative Town Meeting's finance committee.

But she said she agreed to have the city and town councils meet in May to discuss the police study recommendations.

City Police Chief Thomas Davoren said Wednesday that eliminating city dispatchers would not save the city money, because someone would still have to staff the police station.

He said many people stop there, including divorced or separated parents who use the station as a safe place to exchange children for weekend visits.

"I'd have to staff the station no matter what," Davoren said, adding that the state tried consolidating police dispatch centers, and it didn't work. "You can't have the building go dark."

City dispatchers also watch prisoners, Davoren said.

The city would require three measures before it would consider combining dispatch, Davoren said. First, the city and town radio systems would have to share the same frequency; second, the town would have to take over city prisoners; and third, the town would have to integrate its dispatch and records systems, so information transfers from one to the other, he said.

The city's dispatch system automatically moves data into records; the town dispatch system does not.

Sastre said his cost estimates are approximate and based on information on the city's Federal Communications Commission license. The town would need cooperation from the city and a more detailed study to refine its estimates and integrate dispatch, he said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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