Howell still considering shift of dispatch duties

By TAYLOR M. LIER
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Municipal officials are holding discussions with police, fire and emergency medical personnel as a plan to turn over Howell’s police and emergency dispatch responsibilities to Monmouth County remains a possibility.

At a recent Township Council meeting, Councilman Bob Walsh said he and Councilman Edward Guz met with a committee that was established in March to discuss the possible transfer of the municipality’s dispatching services.

The committee consists of Police Chief Ron Carter, Howell Police Department Communications Supervisor Steve Gerrity, one representative from each Howell fire company and fire district, one representative from each Howell first aid squad, and another representative from the Police Department.

“After meeting with various entities, we have a very positive outcome and have decided to take a walk-through of the county facilities. After that tour and another meeting, we will have something more finalized to report back on to the governing body,” Walsh said earlier this month.

If Howell officials shift the dispatch duties to the county, the township will join other communities that have done the same thing, including Englishtown, Manalapan, Freehold Borough and Freehold Township.

In March, Howell dispatchers, firefighters and police officers appeared at a meeting to state their views. Guz said the issue will not be ignored.

“I always express my greatest gratitude to those who serve our community. This issue is of high priority and we are doing everything we can to address it as such. This is about the people who protect us every day,” he said.

Guz said the finances involved in the possible move to the county dispatch was one topic that was brought to the table.

“Our position as members of the governing body was clearly stated as well as the possible cost savings down the road, and I think it was very welcomed. The tour of the county facilities will allow us to observe the capabilities that a lot of members in this discussion raised serious concerns about,” he said.

Mayor Bill Gotto said shifting the dispatching duties from Howell to the county has been contemplated for several years. Gotto has said he has concerns about the level of service the dispatchers at the county could provide for Howell.

“The overall dispatch product here is completely different than the one that is on the county level. There are things with our product you will not get through the county,” the mayor said.

Howell Police Capt. Mark Pilecki said Howell’s dispatchers are the people who are the most familiar with the township.

“With us, there is more personalized service. We have proactive officers and dispatchers on every shift. … If Howell switches to the county, we lose support in a way. The meeting we had with the governing body was positive, but I feel the walk-through they want to do will just show us a state-of-the-art communications center. While that is great, the county level will take away the quality of the dispatching system in the township,” he said.

Pilecki said Howell’s dispatchers have a good working relationship with the town’s officers.

“Maybe down the road, going to the county level will be a good path to take, but right now it just isn’t for Howell,” he said.

Neighboring Wall Township has experience working with the county. According to Nick Curcio, the dispatch supervisor for the Wall Township Police Department, a regional call center may not be familiar with a specific community.

“About a year ago we worked with the county and, if someone made a 911 call, it would go to them first and then be transferred to us. We stopped that and are now completely independent. Wall is large, and our own dispatchers are more familiar with the neighborhoods,” he said.

According to Curcio, 911 calls that come to Wall Township’s dispatch center will have the same individual on the line from the start of the call to the end.

“I believe that with a township dispatcher, the caller is receiving better and quicker service,” he said.

Employees at the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office 911 Communications Center in Freehold Township answer calls for 45 of the county’s 53 municipalities, plus Naval Weapons Station Earle, Gateway National Park-Sandy Hook, Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College, according to Cynthia Scott, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

“The communications center provides dispatch services for 20 police departments, 59 fire companies and 31 first aid squads. The center is the largest countywide shared service and has enough capacity to provide shared communications to all municipalities at a cost savings,” Scott said.

A second meeting of the council and representatives from Howell’s police, fire and EMS departments has yet to be scheduled, according to Guz.

Contact Taylor M. Lier at tlier@gmnews.com.