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Finance board supports civilian dispatch proposal

Published 9:20 am, Saturday, April 5, 2014

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  • Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello spoke to the Board of Finance about the importance of adding money back into the budget for the hiring of a civilian dispatcher in the communications center. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News
    Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello spoke to the Board of Finance about the importance of adding money back into the budget for the hiring of a civilian dispatcher in the communications center. Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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The Darien Police Department's request to hire a civilian dispatcher may become a reality -- at least for a year -- with support from the Board of Finance.

The board agreed Tuesday that the $92,102 needed for the dispatcher job be restored to the budget on Thursday, April 10, when the Board of Finance takes its final vote on the budget and sets the mill rate.

The Representative Town Meeting will take the final vote on Monday, May 5.

"We have moved well beyond the time to be able to effectively and safely staff the communications center," Police Chief Duane Lovello said.

Lovello added that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for one police officer to man the communications center, from which all emergency services are channeled.

"There's a lot more that goes on in this town than you read in the papers," Lovello said. "So what we're asking for is the first step in a five-year process to move us to the civilian dispatch model."

In 2013, the communications center responded to 17,273 incidents, lower than the 19,072 recorded in 2012, according to a report Lovello prepared. In 2013, there were 5,725 9-1-1 calls to the center, again, slightly down from the 6,555 in 2012.

The communications center, situated at police headquarters, is now staffed with police officers who are assigned to work there on an ad hoc basis, Lovello said. They handle 9-1-1 and administrative calls and walk-up traffic.

"They're police officers," Lovello said. "They're not communications specialists."

Lovello's plan is to add nine civilian dispatchers over five years, with one in 2014-15 and two in every year afterward.

"Being frank with you and knowing that increasing head count in town is hard, I do think this is a more practical way of going about it," Lovello said.

By taking officers out of the communications center, Lovello said the department would be able to broaden what it is capable of offering the town, such as implementing a student resource officer at Middlesex Middle School.

"I don't think having police staff assigned to the communications center is the best use of resources," Lovello said.

The civilian dispatcher request was removed from the Board of Selectmen's budget Feb. 12 after the Democratic selectmen said they would not support the budget that was presented.

Reilly Tierney said on Feb. 12 he didn't believe adding a civilian dispatcher to the emergency communications center was a priority for 2014-15. He also said he didn't believe adding a dispatcher would make the town safer, just that it would provide an alternative way to complete administrative duties at the Police Department.

Both Tierney and Kip Hall told the Republican Selectmen that they would support the selectmen's budget if the civilian dispatch was removed.

Board of Finance member Gwen Mogenson said she was "not totally OK" with eventually freeing up nine police officers by taking them out of the communications center and asked Lovello to consider the long-term planning. Mogenson supported adding the money back into the budget for one year.

New Canaan is the only other town in the surrounding area that doesn't have a civilian dispatch model. Since the 1980s, Lovello said, there has been a desire within the police department to staff the communications center with trained civilians.

Board of Finance member James McLoughlin asked about the training possibilities for the dispatchers. According to Lovello, the state recently announced the start of an eight-week course in Middletown for civilian dispatchers, though there are other options available.

McLoughlin said he felt civilian dispatch is a "work in progress" and that the Board of Finance should observe its progress throughout the year. Lovello agreed, but said that if there are any "issues" during discussions with the Darien Police Association, the hiring of the trained civilian could be delayed several months.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews