MIDDLETOWN — Emergency 911 calls will continue to be handled at consolidated dispatch centers under an Emergency Services and Public Protection Department plan that also shifts administrative calls back to regional state police barracks.
The plan was outlined Wednesday by Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora Schriro. It comes following the conclusion of Schriro’s preliminary review of a controversial consolidation effort set in motion by her predecessor, retired Commissioner Reuben Bradford.
Bradford’s plan was to consolidate the 12 state police dispatch centers down to five. But it was put on hold partway through the process amidst opposition from the Connecticut State Police Union and some lawmakers, who raised public safety concerns.
Schriro said previously planned mergers in the unconsolidated central region of the state will remain on hold for further review. She said her plan should also alleviate workload complaints made by dispatchers working in the consolidated centers.
“By parsing out those calls that are better and best handled at the barracks and directing them back, we have our desk trooper who is there, available to handle those questions and tie up less of the phone time currently occurring at the central locations,” she said.
The plan will see 60 percent of the calls made to state police shifted back to local troops to be handled administratively and about 40 percent handled urgently by someone at a dispatch center.
“It is critical that 911 calls are answered quickly . . . The growing trend in the enforcement community is to direct those 911 calls to facilities focused on emergency situations in the interest of improved public safety,” she said.
Schriro began dealing with the dispatch consolidation issue almost immediately after she was nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January. Last month, she reversed part of the policy by ordering that all state police barracks be continually staffed by troopers.
On Wednesday, she avoided directly answering a reporter’s question on whether she believed the consolidation program was a mistake.
“You know, I wasn’t here . . . I think like any plan, no matter how well thought out, it doesn’t necessarily work as intended,” she said.
One goal of the mergers was to shift sworn troopers from administrative desk duties back onto the road. But in areas where it’s been implemented, Schriro said the consolidation has fallen well short of the goals set by the department.
Schriro released her plan as lawmakers are considering a bill that would force the department to reverse the consolidation process. The bill has the support of lawmakers including Senate President Donald Williams and others in the state’s eastern region, where the mergers have already taken place.
In a Wednesday statement, Williams praised Schriro’s deliberative study of the issue.
“She has taken the time to listen to the concerns of the residents of northeastern Connecticut as well as troopers, dispatchers, and officials throughout the state. The return of 24-hour coverage at our barracks has improved service and safety in our communities. Today’s announcement, restoring some dispatch functions to the local barracks, is another step in the right direction,” Williams said.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, the union representing dispatchers, said Schriro has taken steps to reduce stress on dispatchers. But he said they still have public safety concerns.
Dorman pointed to an incident this week where an electrical problem at a Tolland dispatch center forced 911 calls to be dispatched through a center in Litchfield.
“Talking to our dispatchers, the concern is when you put everything into one central place and something like that happens, and that’s not often the case, there can be a public safety impact,” he said.
The plan also calls for the creation of a department working group with dispatchers and sworn state police as well as an advisory panel consisting of local elected officials. The groups will continue to evaluate the state’s dispatch centers.