Veteran cop: Keep dispatch in town

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JAY – A veteran police officer voiced his concerns Monday about the possibility of emergency communications being moved to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

Voters will consider raising about $200,000 for dispatch in April and if they don’t, those services will be provided by the Farmington-based agency.

Police Chief Larry White Sr. was charged by selectmen and the town manager to explore the county dispatching for Jay last year. Taxpayers who responded to a survey said they want dispatch services provided by the county.

White presented his findings to town officials and that is how the recommendation ended up as a separate article in the town’s proposed budget.

Jeffrey Fournier, a corporal with the Jay Police Department and a 24-year member of the force, said Monday that he was speaking to selectmen as a resident of the town and wasn’t trying to point fingers at anybody.

“Jay police/dispatch services entail more than just receiving phone calls and radio transmissions to our officers,” Fournier said. “These dispatchers have received specialized training in many areas to assist our citizens and make our police department function at somewhat of a normal” level.

Many of the tasks that dispatchers provide cannot be provided by an outside dispatch agency, Fournier said.

Those tasks include detailed information entries on a computer program and relaying that information to officers, assigning and preparing cases for officers as they are responding to calls, copying all case materials once they’re approved and handling public service calls at the station 24 hours a day.

Another service dispatchers provide is notarizing police legal documents, eliminating the need for officers to travel out of town or to pay an officer to come in on overtime to accomplish the task, he said.

“My opinion, knowing that all of the above-mentioned tasks that will not be accomplished from our dispatchers, if we lose them, and certainly knowing that a lot of these tasks will not be fulfilled from the Franklin County Sheriff’s (office) dispatch does not convince me that we the citizens or the Jay Police Department is providing a better service for our town,” Fournier said.

“Either patrol officers or day dispatch-secretary or a combination will have added duties to an already over-burdened work environment,” Fournier added.

He said if dispatch goes to Farmington, officers will have less time to patrol and the public will have less access to police after business hours.

The plan, if residents decide to send emergency dispatch to Franklin County, is to keep one of the dispatchers to fill the duties of police secretary during daytime business hours.

Fournier said the switch would create added work beyond an officer’s regular scheduled shift, which may become an employee stress factor that causes medical issues/burnout effects, create increased overtime pay and higher employee turnover rates.

He recommended that dispatch stay within the town.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Bill Harlow said concerns including many of Fournier’s had been discussed, but the chief has been told by Sheriff Dennis Pike that his department can handle the call volume and what is needed for the town.

“We want to make sure our people are safe,” Harlow said.

White said the he did what selectmen asked him to do.

“Is it the Cadillac we had? No. But it would not put our citizens in jeopardy,” White said.

Police departments at Farmington, Mechanic Falls and Sabattus, among others, have dispatch services provided by larger agencies, White said.

It will take some time to get used to but it can be done, he said.

“I consider these people my family” White said of dispatchers and police officers, but as police chief he also has responsibility to look at the information as he was asked to do by town officials.

“The taxpayers will choose in April,” White said.

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