Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 1, 2013

Sheriff's Office to dispatch troopers

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office will handle all dispatching duties for the New York State Police’s barracks in the towns of Niagara and Lockport, beginning today.

Sheriff James R. Voutour said phone lines will be transferred today from the Lockport barracks to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office 911 Center, while state troopers will switch over to the Sheriff’s Office police radio frequency as their primary channel. State troopers were previously handling dispatching duties from the Lockport barracks.

The only significant change will be for those who dial the State Police barracks directly, Voutour said. The Sheriff’s Office was already handling dispatch services for State Police calls outside Lockport and Niagara Falls.

“We do a lot of it now,” Voutour said.

The 911 center also dispatches calls for the Sheriff’s Office, Niagara County town and village police departments, the North Tonawanda police and fire departments and all county volunteer fire and ambulance services.

Before Thursday’s announcement, the Sheriff’s Office 911 Center was handling all emergency calls that came from a cell phone within Niagara County.

Discussion about combining dispatching services started about 12 years ago.

The Niagara County Public Safety Training Center, which houses the 911 center and is located next to the Niagara County Jail on Niagara Street Extension, was funded by the Niagara County Legislature in January 2001 through a resolution using tobacco settlement funds. The goal then was to move toward one consolidated dispatch center and the Sheriff’s Office moved its dispatch functions there in 2007.

“And here we are” today, Voutour said.

The 911 center maintains a staff of approximately 30 civilian dispatchers. Approximately four to six dispatchers are on duty per shift. Even though the staff is stretched thin, the center will be able to handle the new arrangement, Voutour said.

“We’re hoping we can accommodate,” he said. “They’re pretty taxed, but no (extra dispatchers) as of right now.”

County dispatchers have full 911 accreditation status from New York state, signifying they have been thoroughly trained in dispatching, according to the sheriff’s office.

Voutour said the new dispatch arrangement with the State Police comes at a time when governments are being asked to cut expenses and share services. Combining dispatching into one central location is advantageous, he said.

The county’s emergency communication system is being upgraded now. The $10 million project involves construction of new radio towers around the county, acquisition of new radios and equipment and, simultaneously, switching emergency communications to the “narrow” band of the broadcast spectrum, to to free up additional space for first responders and private industry.

The Sheriff’s Office received a $750,000 state grant to upgrade computer-aided dispatching. Voutour said Niagara County applied for the annual grant last year and received the biggest award in the state.

The upgrade will allow all police, fire and emergency agencies to share the same software system and, therefore, the same information.

In a statement, State Police Capt. Craig Hanesworth said he believes consolidation of dispatch services “provides the citizens of Niagara County with the best in police service and response times while also providing for an increase in the safety of our officers.”

Troopers who have been handling dispatch or clerical work will now be reassigned to road patrol, Hanesworth said.

People can still contact staff at the State Police barracks for non-emergencies by calling 434-5589.

There will also be an emergency call box at the front door of the Lockport barracks that will ring into the 911 center. The closest available police car will be dispatched to the barracks, State Police said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.