- Published on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 18:39
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Westmoreland County Sheriff C. O. Balderson visited the Colonial Beach Town Council on Monday Jan. 28, to discuss the advantages of consolidating the Colonial Beach Police Department’s dispatch with Westmoreland County’s.
Invited by council, Balderson assured the group that he is not trying to take over the town’s public safety sector, but merely to respond to the request for information.
The sheriff touched on two points-public safety and cost.
Balderson said that public safety could be affected by the redundancy of callers having to explain their emergency to multiple agencies. “There is a duplication that takes place”, he said.
When a Colonial Beach-area 911 call comes in from a cell phone, the call is routed to the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Colonial Beach (CB) landline 911 calls are routed to the Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD).
Fire and rescue responses for CB are dispatched from the Westmoreland Sheriff’s Office, while police responses for CB are dispatched from Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD).
If a call for fire or rescue services comes from a landline in CB, the caller has to give a brief description of the emergency to a dispatcher at CBPD, then repeat the process to a dispatcher at WCSO.
Likewise, if a call for police services in CB comes through a cell phone, the caller will reach (WCSO) first, and the caller will be required to give some details to WCSO dispatch before being routed back to CBPD dispatch, at which time the caller must repeat the information.
Councilmember Tim Curtin, cited a recent stabbing in the town of Colonial Beach. He said a call for help came in through a cell phone, reaching WCSO first, and subsequently then rerouted to CBPD.
Colonial Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad personnel were dispatched from WCSO, and police were dispatched through CBPD.
Balderson explained that no matter which dispatch office the calls come to first, each office must obtain some information to determine who needs to be dispatched, and in case the call is lost or ended during an emergency.
The redundancy takes valuable time away from the responders that could make a difference in response times, and possibly, lives saved.
“To some people five or six seconds may not mean a whole lot, but when you have a house on fire or a critical emergency such as a heart attack, every second counts,” Balderson said.
Balderson didn’t want to be presumptuous and give exact figures, only to show that there could be a savings in costs. “I’m not going to tell you how much you can or cannot save. I’ve talked to Motorola. I’ve also been in contact with Westmoreland County Administrator Norm Rasavi. Basically, on the equipment itself, and maintenance and service contracts, you’re going to see a savings.”
Balderson suggested that the CB town manager and the Westmoreland County administrator compare costs in detail.
“I offer this as an alternative. I’m going to support you and Chief Seay. I’m here for you, either way you want to go,” Balderson added.
The dispatch system in CB is becoming obsolete, and repair costs go up all the time due to the lack of replacement parts. Balderson said that because the county is currently planning and building a new judicial center, it would be less expensive to have the county and town come together and plan it now, as opposed to adding it in the future.
When asked for his opinion, Interim CBPD Chief William Seay said he feels that consolidating would save money. He suggested that the council compare the current systems in Colonial Beach and Westmoreland County, then look at King George County’s “state of the art” system.
“I haven’t really embraced the issue of cost savings” Seay said, but he feels that if it would save money, it would be a good idea to consolidate, and believes it would benefit both Colonial Beach and Westmoreland County.
Councilman Tommy Edwards questioned Balderson on the issue of the current CBPD dispatchers keeping their jobs.
“I’m not a hatchet man,” Balderson said, “There may be information that I’m privy to that may disqualify folks to move to the Sheriff’s office, but all dispatchers are welcome to apply.”
Balderson would consider all current dispatchers who wish to apply, but said that he would have to have, with the town’s understanding, the latitude to say who could be disqualified and give the reasons for their disqualification.
Balderson commented that he wanted to see more cooperation in the future between the county and the town in areas beyond policing.
CB Mayor Mike Ham said, “My feeling is that the staff of CBPD realize we are in Westmoreland County, and it’s time that Westmoreland realizes that we’re probably the biggest concentration of people in the entire county.”
Ham wants to close the gap, and improve the relationship between the county and the town of CB. A gap, he felt was apparent, when he started attending the county supervisor’s meetings late last year.
Councilmember Chiarello commented, “It’s going to be a bright future for Colonial Beach and Westmoreland County.”