Since the $12 million state-of-the-art Bergen County Public Safety Operations Center opened in Mahwah in 2010, 21 local police departments in Bergen County have consolidated their dispatch services with those of the county.
New Milford is considering joining them. Police Chief Frank Papapietro and the Mayor and Council are exploring the cost savings of transferring the police department's 9-1-1 police emergency system to the county's central dispatch in Mahwah.
(The New Milford Fire Department and EMS dispatch have already consolidated with Northwest Bergen Central Dispatch in Ridgewood.)
However, Papapietro was adamant that he would only agree to this transfer as long as the police desk continues to provide the residents of New Milford with round the clock presence.
"I will consider this, but not at the expense of getting rid of a desk officer and leaving headquarters locked after hours," he said.
For Papapietro, a 24-hour police presence is non-negotiable. "The residents of New Milford deserve nothing less than the best service," he said.
"River Road is a cut-through for many people," Papapietro stressed. "And there are many instances when people walk into the police station in the middle of the night seeking help."
"Sometimes women will come into headquarters on their way home because they think someone might be following them; or they come in because they have been the victim of a violent domestic incident," he explained.
Papapietro added that his department has had maternity cases where women walk into headquarters ready to give birth and seeking assistance. Also, a man who felt ill while driving on River Road, pulled into the police parking lot, walked into headquarters and had a heart attack right inside the door.
Papapietro said that the kids playing on the fields behind Borough Hall often come in for a drink of water or first aid.
"I want everybody to be able to walk through the door of headquarters any time during the day and night and see the face of a New Milford police officer," he emphasized.
According to Papapietro, the upside of transferring police dispatch to the county's central dispatch is that the county is constantly updating the technology.
"When something gets old, they replace it," he said. "If equipment goes down, they have a back-up system."
During his January presentation to the Mayor and Council regarding the aging infrastructure of police headquarters, Papapietro reported that during Superstorm Sandy, police headquarters was without power, "The internet and computers were rendered useless," he said.
Additionally, the county's central dispatch is outfitted with the latest technology with back-up systems should the power go down. "They are equipped with the best technological resources," he added.
While consolidating with the county would move the town’s dispatch services to Mahwah, Papapietro said that this move, if undertaken, would not affect the quality of service or speed of response times.
"The service would still be of the same quality that the citizens of New Milford are used to. Otherwise, we won’t make that move,” he said.
According to Papapietro, partnering with the county's Public Safety Operations Center for police dispatch would enhance New Milford's own emergency services.
In addition to the state-of-the-art equipment, Papapietro said, "The county's Central Dispatch is a large communications agency, with a large fully trained and experienced staff, as opposed to the one person answering the phone at the desk who, although experienced and fully trained, can only effectively handle one emergency at a time."
Papapietro will look further into this matter and provide the Mayor and Council with his findings and final recommendation.