Proposal to fix budget would condense number of 911 call centers in state

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HARTFORD–Lawmakers in cash-strapped Connecticut continue to look for ways to save as the budget balloons, but one idea has certain law enforcement leaders shaking their heads.

A bill to condense 911 dispatch centers for small towns with neighboring villages is facing push back from certain departments that believe it compromises public safety.

Imagine you’re in Berlin and you call 911 after hours, but the lights are out at the town’s police department. Instead of Berlin’s dispatch employees picking up the phone, nearby Rocky Hill answers and wants to know your emergency. You say Main Street, but would the dispatcher know there are two Main Streets in the town of Berlin?

“If that were to be taken out of the town, you lose your local knowledge,” said Berlin Police Chief Paul Fitzgerald.

It’s a scenario Fitzgerald finds uncomfortable. He was in Hartford Tuesday to testify against the bill, which would penalize small towns that keep individual dispatch centers open.

“I have dispatchers who know who the bad guys are, they know where they live, they know we have two Main Streets in town,” said Chief Fitzgerald. “That local knowledge would be lost if we went to another community and they don’t know those things.”

Towns that either have a population of 40,000 people or less, or have dispatch centers that take fewer than 12,000 calls per year, could lost state funding.

Right now in Connecticut, there are 99 local call centers, and just 40 are above that threshold.

Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey said in written testimony it’s about being efficient, saying regional services will reduce call times and save taxpayers.

“The state can no longer afford to subsidize inefficiency at either the state or local level,” Sharkey said.

State Rep. J.P. Sredzinski represents Monroe and Newtown, both of which would have to consolidate or pay.

Sredzinski also manages a call center in Stratford and is concerned about the bill’s timeline, which plans for consolidations to be completed by 2020.

“That’s a very small time frame, and as someone who manages a dispatch center myself and have for many years, there’s a lot of concerns,” said Sredzinski. “There’s union concerns, policy concerns, training concerns.”

Sredzinski is in favor of voluntary consolidation, but he thinks forcing towns to do so will only create an environment that’s set up for failure.