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Washington Township residents, police urge officials to look closer at consolidation study

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT AT THE SCENE: Nearly 150 residents and business owners urged Washington Township officials tonight to more closely examine a proposal by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to fund a police consolidation study.

Council members said they’re solely concerned about consolidating dispatching, but that isn’t what the study would entail, several people – including Assemblyman Bob Schroeder – told them.

Mayor Janet Sobkowicz and members of the c ouncil said they want to go with a proposal from the Bergen County Police Department that would merge Washington Township’s dispatch services with at least one other area town’s.

However, Schroeder said he spoke with the prosecutor’s office at length today and warned officials that the study is “all about consolidating” police departments and not just dispatch services.

“For some reason, they think it’s about grant money for dispatching. It’s not,” resident Kelly Riedel said after the nearly two-hour meeting.

“My husband is a police officer,” Riedel said, “but I’m also a mom. I want my kids to be safe. Why can’t we look in-house first? No one is complaining about the police department. There are a lot more things they could be focused on, like better equipment.”

Residents in the 3.5-square-mile township are used to picking up the phone and getting the local police, Detective Sgt. John Calamari, a police union representative, told township officials at tonight’s meeting. That’s part of what living in a proud, safe town is — fast, personal service, he said.

A dispatcher or officer answers the phone without someone having to go through a series of pre-recorded messages, and that person immediately steers the caller to the proper source, Calamari said. The Emergency Services Dispatch Center at police headquarters handles, coordinates and records all communication and response for police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, as well.

It’s staffed and functions 24/7 every day of the year. That allows for police headquarters to remain open that entire time. Residents tonight said it’s a service they’re loathe to give up.

Tonight’s session was scheduled after the local PBA urged officials to proceed “in the proper way” before deciding on a bid by six Pascack Valley police chiefs to share dispatch services.

County police have presented their own proposal. The prosecutor’s office bid is for a study that would research whether merging police departments with another municipality or more is feasible. B efore township officials decide anything, NJ State Local #206 wants them to get “extensive” input from the emergency service providers in town, as well as residents.

“Any change to the manner in which emergency services are provided has the potential to significantly alter the quality of those services,” the Washington Township unit of the local said in a letter to township officials, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“Residents need to be involved in the decision-making process,” it added. “They have the right to know exactly how the service will change and exactly what the differences will be.”

Sobkowicz said tonight that she would assemble a committee, including residents and emergency services personnel, to examine the study proposal and explore all potential options. Schroeder, a Washington Township firefighter who lives in town, volunteered to participate.

The assemblyman already made it clear to Bergen County’s police chiefs at a meeting last week that he is against consolidating. He suggested that companies getting the money for feasibility studies be required to place a bond, so that if their suggestions end up costing the township dearly, they would be on the hook for the difference.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported exclusively this past summer, Washington Township officials rejected an offer by county police to patrol its roads – the same as Carlstadt did recently. The dispatch question remains open in Washington Township, however.

Two competing proposals essentially are on the table – the one pitched by the county and the one backed by the chiefs in Emerson, Hillsdale, Old Tappan, River Vale, Westwood and Washington Township. The merger is another consideration.

You could make that stool four-legged if you include a plan that Township Council Vice-President Steve Cascio said he’s been exploring with a private firm, Ridgewood-based Northwest Bergen Central Dispatch, a public safety dispatch center in North Jersey established by former village firefighter Robert Greenlaw.

Under the chiefs’ plan, the dispatch center would be in Old Tappan’s former police headquarters. The six towns would split the costs equally. Although they would also have a say in operations, hirings and firings, questions have emerged over how that would be done.

The county’s plan requires at least one more town to partner with Washington Township. Westwood and Hillsdale have been asked but haven’t yet responded.

“Say we go with county dispatching,” Riedel said. “What if police are involved in a shooting and backup takes 40 minutes to get there?”

Not a far-fetched question.

Earlier this year, a madman summoned police to his house on a report of shots fired. Two responding township officers were walking up the drive to the house when the caller’s mother shouted from inside. The officers jumped out of the way an instant before a rifle blast blew past them and struck their cruiser.

What may have made the difference was an officer who wasn’t even there.

A desk officer familiar with the area got two Hillsdale and one Westwood officer to the scene in seconds. The immediate backup became critical when the gunman emerged from the house and began a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the officers, taking aim at them from various places. They eventually shot and killed him as he fired at one of the officers from point-blank range.

The three departments all operated on different radio frequencies, so the desk officer remained in contact with all five, transmitting their positions to one another. The officers later told CLIFFVIEW PILOT they didn’t want to imagine the things that could have gone horribly wrong if they had been out there unable to know where each other was or what they were doing.

Two of the officers involved in that incident attended tonight’s meeting.

One resident asked whether the council would consider postponing a response to the prosecutor’s proposal for 60 days, but she wasn’t given an answer.

“When you call the police department, you want to talk to a police officer,” Riedel said, summing up the sentiment of many who spoke. “That officer can handle the call at that moment and it might not be necessary to send cars out. That saves time and money…. They want to save money. They already are.

“Our town is the best. That’s why we live here,” she added. “Let’s keep it that way.”


MORE:

PBA urges township officials to get public input on sharing emergency services dispatching

Thursday, 20 October 2011 21:50 Jerry DeMarco

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Washington Township PBA members are urging officials to proceed “in the proper way” before deciding on a bid by six Pascack Valley police chiefs to share dispatch services. READ MORE….

Bergen County Police prepared to patrol Carlstadt

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 19:26 Jerry DeMarco

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Executive Kathleen A. Donovan this afternoon confirmed a CLIFFVIEW PILOT report that her office has negotiated an agreement for county police to patrol Carlstadt’s industrial section. READ MORE….






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