Debate over Sullivan 911 center

Update: Public Safety Committee passes 911 transfer resolution

By FRITZ MAYER
Posted 1/22/20

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Public Safety Committee, in an emergency meeting on January 22, passed a resolution consolidating the operations of the 911 Control Center and the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office.

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Debate over Sullivan 911 center

Update: Public Safety Committee passes 911 transfer resolution

Posted

Upated Jan 22:   MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Public Safety Committee, in an emergency meeting on January 22, passed a resolution consolidating the operations of the 911 Control Center and the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office. As it stands now, the E911 cooridinator, Alex Rau, reports to the public safety commissioner, Rick Sauer, who reports to the county manager, Josh Potosek. This move will take control of the 911 center from the public saftey department and give it to the sheriff's department, headed by Sheriff Mike Schiff.

After the three-to-one vote, there were catcalls, mostly to oppose the move, from some of the many EMS and firefighter volunteers gathered at the government center in Monticello.  The three legislators who voted in favor, Nicholas Solomone Jr., Michale Brooks and Rob Doherty, are new to the body; a few EMS and firefighter volunteers vowed to vote them out of office.

Before the vote, legislators Ira Stengart and Joe Perrello registered their strong objections to the way the measure was being pushed through without what they felt was sufficient study and without input from various stakeholders.

The resolution, which was rejected by the legislature the previous day, was amended to include that an audit of the operations would be conducted by the New York Sheriff's Association and that the "Sheriff's Office shall not make any operational nor structural changes to the day-to-day operations until such audit is completed."

The resolution must be passed by the full board before taking effect, and the board may vote on it on January 23. 

Below is the coverage from the previous meeting:

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MONTICELLO, NY — The government center in Monticello was full of law enforcement officials at the meeting of the Public Safety Committee on January 21. They were there to comment on the resolution calling for “consolidation of operations of the 911 Control Center with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to streamline public safety operations and create a more efficient, cost-effective means of emergency dispatch.”

The police chiefs of Liberty, Monticello and Fallsburg all spoke in favor of the resolution, and Simmie Williams noted that it was a rare event to have all the police chiefs and the sheriff in agreement on an issue.

“Sullivan County law enforcement agencies have dealt with serious public safety issues concerning 911,” said Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, citing a 2017 study that reported merging the county’s 911 center with Fallsburg police dispatch would result in a savings of more than $400,000, the implication being that merging the county’s 911 operation with the sheriff’s office dispatching operation would save even more.

The 911 Control Center was previously consolidated with the sheriff’s dispatch in 2011 and 2012, when the legislature voted to end the consolidation. When the consolidation was ended, some in the county said it caused a public safety crisis. However, then-chair of the legislature Scott Samuelson said at the time there was no crisis but also no “political will” to have Sheriff Mike Schiff in charge of 911. Samuelson suggested leaving the merger in place but removing Schiff from the top. “Absolutely not,” Schiff said. “It’s ok, in my opinion, for civilians to do civilian dispatch for emergencies. It’s not okay for people that are not under police authority to do police dispatch.” Schiff pointed to E-911 coordinator Alex Rau for the ultimate reversal of the merger. He said, “Alex let it fall apart, I don’t know how else to put it.”

When Rau spoke he also talked about the past merger. “The significant amount of call increase that came into the 911 center overwhelmed our 911 operation and our 911 dispatchers.” He said a bit later, “I am troubled by the tactics being used to drive this plan forward, including publicly calling into question my ability to manage the 911 center, essentially defaming me.”

One law enforcement official who urged caution on the decision was Chris Zaba, captain of New York State Police in Liberty. He noted that state police respond to 40 percent of calls in the county, more than any other police agency. “This is a big decision to make with long-term effects, and most importantly safety,” he said. “What historical data do we have to make this decision, what documentation do the other agencies have to base this decision on? What are the other counties throughout the state doing?” He suggested postponing the decision for a year while the issue was researched.

Ultimately county chair Rob Doherty moved the resolution, but no other legislator stepped forward to second it. The legislature then voted to table the resolution.

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