Emergency dispatch debate continues in Niagara County

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB)- The police union in North Tonawanda is claiming the department’s response times have been negatively impacted by a consolidated emergency dispatch system.

As a cost saving measure in 2012, a state grant helped North Tonawanda merge with Niagara County for emergency response.

The decision was made by the North Tonawanda City Council and then-Mayor Robert Ortt.

Since then, with several other agencies including state police, North Tonawanda’s emergency calls have been handled by county dispatchers from one central location.

North Tonawanda city officials and Niagara County law enforcement have applauded the consolidation as a success, stating public safety is improved when all agencies can talk to each other.

The PBA in North Tonawanda is claiming the opposite.

“Our response times are slower and the radio traffic is unsafe because we can’t talk when we need to for the citizens and for our own protection,” said PBA spokesperson Erik Herbert.

That claim has sparked a lot of back and forth with Niagara County.

“All of the airway is shared with everybody in Niagara County,” Herbert told News 4.

The police union wants it’s own channel.

“It’s not necessary,” Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti said.

“That radio system is nowhere near capacity. Of all the other agencies using that radio system, NT is the only one that has this issue. I think that speaks for itself.”

According to Filicetti and city officials, if North Tonawanda was to break off from the county’s dispatch system, it would cost around $2 million.

North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur Pappas told News 4 the decision to consolidate has saved the city $400,000 per year.

Councilmembers Mark Berube and Eric Zadzilka told us they’ve received no complaints from any North Tonawanda resident regarding emergency response times.

Pappas said the only complaint he’s heard on the issue has come from the PBA. He’s seen no indication that their claims of poor response times due to the current system are true.

The PBA argues city policing is different than county policing. It’s one of the reasons he said their department doesn’t feel the need to use AVL.

North Tonawanda is the only municipality in Niagara County’s dispatch without AVL; it’s a GPS system for their squad cars.

Herbert said the system doesn’t make sense for their city, when cars are already so close together.

“We’re a self sufficient city police department. We have experts in place that do specialty jobs that are ready to work for the city,” he said.

Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour has told News 4 North Tonawanda’s response times could be impacted by their failure to use the technology.

“I think policing is policing,” said Filicetti.

“And I think if we can look at a dot on a screen on the AVL and say this North Tonawanda car’s closer, we won’t send that beat car. If the bordering beat car is closer, we could automatically send them,” the undersheriff continued.

Sheriff Voutour has said “you’re free to go” to the PBA in North Tonawanda; but the decision to leave isn’t up to the union or the county, it’s up to the City of North Tonawanda.

Mayor Pappas said there are no plans to change up the current system.

Herbert and other PBA members plan to address the issue at the next council meeting, April 4.

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