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Pascack Valley Daily Voice serves Emerson, Hillsdale, Montvale, Park Ridge, River Vale, Washington Township, Westwood & Woodcliff Lake

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DV Pilot police & fire

Hillsdale PBA chief blasts county dispatch ‘miracle solution’

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EXCLUSIVE: Hillsdale’s PBA president last night accused borough council members intent on outsourcing dispatch services of ignoring significant expenses and putting public safety at risk by seeking a “miracle solution” to rising government costs.

NEWSBREAK: Last night’s meeting was held after five borough employees got Rice List notices yesterday — four of them from the Hillsdale Fire Department, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

“Mayor and council members, please do your homework. Slow down and realize that the advantages you think you see at the County Dispatch Center, and the cost savings you think you’ll achieve with county dispatch, might just be an illusion,” PBA Local #207 President Chris Donaldson said during a meeting called last night to discuss the issue.

“Any net savings to the town is questionable and serious concerns about public safety services have not yet been addressed in detail,” he said.

PBA Local #207 President Chris Donaldson

Donaldson also urged residents to learn as much as they can about the move and make their feelings known to the mayor and council – through phone calls and email and by attending meetings.

“It can happen so quickly that corners will be cut, and safety measures will be skipped in the name of cost savings,” the PBA chief said.

The governing body has held meetings and even taken a straw poll aimed at moving dispatch services to the County Communication Center in Mahwah. Among other things, that could mean closing police headquarters at certain hours.

That keeps citizens from “seeking refuge inside a locked police station during an emergency” and eliminates headquarters as a safety zone for children, Donaldson said.

Upgrades and retrofits will be mandatory, including getting new radios to compensate for incompatibility with the county system – and building a new transmission tower — all of which could run into a huge expense, the PBA chief told the mayor and council.

Hillsdale has recently saved money by adding civilian dispatchers, he said. Meanwhile, police are at their lower personnel levels in years.

“The PBA asked to be a part of this decision-making process, but we have not yet received a phone call or an e-mail inviting us to participate in any real way,” Donaldson said.

For that reason, the PBA chief last night raised “some concerns we’ve had all along, but no one bothered to ask us”:

First is how long headquarters could be shut down as a result of the move.

“There is no substitute for a helpful police officer or dispatcher waiting to assist someone in need when they enter the building,” Donaldson said.

“By closing headquarters, the council would have a citizen with any need, any question, or any emergency – big or small – pick up a telephone next to the locked door,” he said. “The phone would ring in Mahwah, and a police officer on patrol would be radioed to meet you at the entrance.

“Rain or snow, a cold windy night or a blistering hot Saturday afternoon in the summer, this person – young or old – who has come to the police station for help will wait outside for an available unit to respond.”

In one instance, police helped someone who came into headquarters suffering a heart attack, he said. In another, a woman attacked by her boyfriend found safety there.

Given its unique location – on a busy street in the center of town, near the train station and downtown park – Hillsdale police headquarters is extremely valuable to its residents, Donaldson said.

“For years, we have encouraged the children in town to walk into the police station if they are ever frightened, scared, in trouble, or in need,” he said. “They’ve been told for years that their local police officers are here to help and our police station is an open door.

“Are we now prepared to tell our kids in town that our doors are no longer open for them?”

Donaldson also questioned the true costs of the move.

“Up to this point, there have only been mentions of round numbers as potential money saved,” he said. “The PBA expects, and the residents deserve, to hear the hard numbers.

“What are the recurring fees? What are the one-time fees?”

For instance, Donaldson said, upgrades will have to be made to police vehicles and computer terminals. Security for a closed police department will have to be bolstered.

Hillsdale police can communicate quite well with surrounding towns, as well as with State Police and Bergen County law enforcement agencies, Donaldson said. If dispatching is outsourced, he warned, new radios would have to be bought and a new transmission antenna built in town.

“Our math indicates several thousands of dollars in upgrades and changes that will have to be paid for sooner rather than later,” Donaldson said, warning that the expenses cannot in any way be delayed or deferred.

“Who will pay for that?” he asked.

“Worse still, once we have these new county radios… we will not be able to communicate with our surrounding towns,” Donaldson added.

“Why can’t we keep our dispatch in-house using civilian dispatchers who work for us, who represent Hillsdale, who care about this town?” he asked. “We have already incorporated the use of per diem dispatchers that have saved this town thousands of dollars by reducing police overtime while still providing an in-house service.

“Wouldn’t it be easier and wiser to expand our in-house civilian dispatching to cover more shifts with quality people, save the town money, and maintain the same level of service?”

On top of reductions in police, “outsourcing dispatch further strips the Hillsdale Police Department of capabilities by turning the controls over to strangers in Mahwah,” Donaldson said. “How far will this go?”

He urged residents to learn more about the move and let the mayor and council know their feelings: “We want to see the residents in the loop, because the recent hasty vote to move forward as quickly as possible with county dispatch makes us worried that this change over will happen without all of these important questions answered.

“We must also make sure that this Mayor and Council make the right decision based on safety, not dollars and cents.”

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