Decision on Privatizing Police Dispatching Due Tonight

Tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 22) Lawrence Township Council will decide whether to privatize police/911 dispatching services by awarding a contract to a Cranbury company or keep the township’s police communications center staffed by municipal employees.

Tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 22)  Lawrence Township Council will decide whether to privatize police/911 emergency dispatching services by awarding a contract to Cranbury-based iXP Corporation or reject iXP’s bid and maintain the status quo of the township’s police communications center being staffed by municipal employees.

At the last council meeting, held on Jan. 8, council members decided to follow Township Manager Richard Krawczun’s recommendation that such a decision should be postponed for two weeks to allow the township’s unionized dispatchers to make a counter offer in the hope of saving their jobs.

During the meeting, Township Manager Richard Krawczun presented a detailed cost analysis showing that, for the five years from 2013 through 2017, it would cost the township $3,634,063 in base pay and benefits to staff the communication center with nine dispatchers, while iXP’s proposal to provide dispatching services would be $3,651,922 – or almost $18,000 more.

However, according to Krawczun, because of the new 12-hour shifts that the municipally-employed dispatchers would work, the township would have to pay an additional $338,909 in “built-in” overtime over the course of those five years, making the proposal from iXP – which would absorb the cost of such anticipated overtime, at no expense to the township – about $321,000 less. (Overtime generated by an emergency situation, such as a hurricane, would be paid for by the township.)

An even more expensive proposal, according to Krawczun, would be to have the township dispatchers continue to work their current 8½-hour shift schedule. In doing so, over the course of those five years, the township would need to spend more than $1,173,000 to use uniformed police officers to staff the communications center when dispatchers are off sick, on vacation, or need to take their meal breaks, he said.

(Krawczun’s presentation can be found in the media box above. The discussion of dispatching begins at the start of meeting Audio Part 4 and continues into Audio Part 5, also available from the media box above.)

As part of its proposal, iXP noted that it currently provides dispatch services, from a joint communications center, to three municipalities in the Metro Atlanta area of Georgia.

But Frank Herrick, staff representative for AFSCME Council 73, the union that represents township dispatchers, questioned why iXP doesn’t operate any dispatch facilities in its home state.

“The point is, this is an emergency service… Private industry needs a profit margin. This is not an area that should be generating a profit,” he said. “Think about why iXP, which is from New Jersey, doesn’t have one single town. Why are you the first? Why are we looking at something to privatize that has never been privatized for a reason? You don’t privatize fire. You don’t privatize police. You don’t privatize the people who dispatch those agencies. It’s too critical.

“We’re going to come in close enough, I think, that you should not consider going to any private agency. You’ve got real professionals working on this thing,” Herrick continued. “I think two years from now you’re going to be sorry you did this, if you do it. We’re going to try and come in here and come as close as we can to that number. I want you to keep an open mind as to how much you’re willing to save when you’ve got a good team in there already doing the job. I’m sure you all have friends who are cops. Talk to them about what it’s like to be out there and hope like hell when he gets on the radio and asks for help that the right person is sitting on that desk.”

Among the others who spoke during the meeting to express concern about privatizing dispatching services was township Detective Scott Caloiaro.

“When we talk about removing our dispatchers and bringing in a private agency, we as the Fraternal Order of Police really consider this a huge public safety issue,” Caloiaro said. “First and foremost because when you bring in a private entity, they don’t know our town; they don’t know our citizens; they don’t know how the demographics of our town are laid out; they don’t know who we’ve had numerous calls for; they don’t know where possible domestic violence reoccurrences are coming from… Our dispatchers right now are excellent. They know exactly who, what, where, why, when, and how. And when you’re putting a police officer’s life on the line, I want somebody who knows who, what, where, why, when, and how.”

Krawczun has repeatedly said that looking into the possibility of privatizing dispatching services has nothing to do with the performance of the township's dispatchers. In fact, he has praised them for “setting the bar so high.” Rather, he said, it’s part of the township’s efforts to reduce expenses amid its ongoing municipal budget crisis.

“I’ve said from the very beginning, this was never a reflection on our dispatchers; never what they do, never how they do it,” he told council members at the Jan. 8 meeting. “You were asked, and I’ve been asked by you, to come up with new ways to do business. And we need to explore those. And if we can do it in cooperation with the union and create those same savings, then let’s go down that road. And if we can’t, we need to choose another direction, or I’m going to recommend a different direction to council.”


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