Privatized Emergency Dispatching Could Be in Waterbury's Future

In a cost-saving move, the city of Waterbury is looking to outsource emergency dispatching for police, fire and medical calls and accepting bids to privatize its dispatch center.

Mayor Neil O'Leary, the former Waterbury police chief, said the city is behind the times when it comes to technology that could help with response times.

“Quite frankly it’s the way the industry is going" O'Leary said Monday.

The city has issued a request for proposals, or RFP, seeking bids from private companies that handle 911 operations and call centers for other cities around Connecticut and around the country. Such companies typically have two ways of handling the calls, either in a communications center within the city or at an off-site location.

Waterbury currently spends $4 million on its 911 dispatch system. The city is hoping to save money, potentially as much as $2.9 million, the RepublicanAmerican reported, citing a city report.

There are mixed reviews about the concept. Active duty police officers and firefighters currently staff the city's radio room, but O'Leary contends that those are bodies that could be better utilized elsewhere.

"We have significant openings in our police department and we’d like to get some of those people assigned to the dispatch center back out on to the street and you know we really are looking for the most efficient way without compromising of public safety," O'Leary said.

However Lt. Nick Lukiwsky, president of the Brass Chapter of the Connecticut Alliance of City Police, sees it differently and the police union isn't thrilled about the idea.

“I know it’s not going to be as safe as we are now" Lukiwsky said.

He's concerned that taking officers who know the neighborhoods in Waterbury out of the 911 dispatch process could be bad for public safety.

“There’s just something missing in the experience and the street knowledge that someone has and the benefits that provides for the officer and for the citizens also," Lukiwsky said.

O'Leary doesn't disagree. However, the mayor also thinks there are ways to involve uniformed police and firefighters in the response process.

The change to a private model is not set in stone, O'Leary told the RepublicanAmerican.

"It’s all computerized and automated dispatch today so if you’re very savvy with computers, you can obviously do this job" O'Leary said. "If you are not, then you need the training.”

The city is accepting bids through Jan. 12.

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