Surveillance upgrades for dispatch raises questions about local police

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PARIS — A proposed update to the surveillance system at the Oxford County dispatch center is raising questions about how often, and for how long, local police officers visit the facility during patrol shifts, and whether those visits are properly recorded.

According to County Administrator Scott Cole, local police vehicles frequently remain parked in front of the building — near his office in the Oxford County Courthouse in Paris — far longer than he thinks is necessary. The view from Cole’s desk has an unimpeded view to the front door of the Oxford County Regional Communications Center.

“I spend a fair amount of time here on the evenings and weekends, and I can tell you, Norway, Paris and Oxford, those taxpayers are not getting full police coverage, because those cars are right out here idling,” Cole declared, during a meeting of county department heads on Tuesday. 

Regional Communications Director James Miclon intends to replace two of the centers’s surveillance cameras and install a third, as well as recording equipment for the system, which currently has no recording capability.

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Upgrading the system is expected to cost around $1,400, Miclon said. He hopes to fund the purchase through a grant. Miclon emphasized that improving security at the facility and the Oxford County Courthouse was the primary reason for investing in new equipment.

As far as an inordinate presence of police officers at the facility, Miclon said he was unaware of any problems, but did not dispute Cole’s assertion.

“Scott’s hours are different from mine, and he apparently is in a better position to see that than I am,” Miclon said, adding that he has only received a few complaints from staff about the issue over the years.

Emergency, law enforcement and county employees are each given an individual keycode to enter and exit the building, but some officers either forget their code or don’t feel the need to use it. They also neglect to write in their time of arrival and departure in the facility’s log book, Miclon said. 

The practice has led to “heated arguments” between dispatch supervisors and police officers, Miclon told county commissioners last Tuesday.

That puts him in difficult position in terms of federal rules that require him to keep track of who comes and goes into the facility, Miclon said in an interview Thursday. He can’t keep track if formal records aren’t being kept. 

“We have some officers who kind of fluff that off and don’t think it’s a big deal, but it is a big deal to us,” Miclon said.

Installing recording equipment might help prevent unrecorded entrances into the building, Miclon said.

“This way, if there are officers abusing the policy, I’d be able to look at it and talk to their chief and say, ‘Hey, if they’re going to come up to do business, they need to either use their code or sign in. If they can’t do that, then please speak to them.'”

Close interaction between dispatchers and law enforcement is encouraged, and the building’s kitchen is open for officers to use during their shifts, Miclon added.

Local police chiefs say they are unaware of any of the problems claimed by Miclon and Cole.

His officers, in fact, have been encouraged to regularly stop into the RCC to touch base with the dispatchers and build professional relationships, said Norway police Chief Robert Federico, although he noted that most officers “didn’t really have a reason to be there.”

Officers usually only need to visit dispatch to drop off and pick up paperwork and documents and sometimes to gather more detailed information about a call, Federico said.

“Obviously, we don’t want police officers up there spending their whole shift socializing,” Federico said, “but to build working relationships is certainly encouraged.”

Federico is a member of ORCC’s governing board, made up of representatives from law enforcement and emergency responders from across the county.

He said he was unaware of any problems with officers not signing in and out of the building, but conceded that he hadn’t memorized his own door code, which was not necessary because he very rarely went to the facility.

Oxford police Lt. Michael Ward also denied knowledge of any issues at the dispatch center, but agreed that Oxford police officers were encouraged to develop relationships with the dispatchers.

Although improperly signing in may have been an issue in the past, officers are now using their recently issued door code numbers, Ward said.

Paris police Chief Michael Madden said the number of traffic stops and frequency of calls for his officers indicate his personnel are spending their shifts on the road, not at dispatch.

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