WOBURN, MA - Police Chief Robert Ferullo hopes to obtain federal dollars to study the possibility of creating a regionalized dispatch center in the city that would also serve the towns of Stoneham, Burlington, Winchester, and Wilmington.
According to Ferullo, who recently attended a meeting of the City Council's Police and Ordinance Committee, he believes the state-of-the-art dispatch center recently installed at the Harrison Avenue police station is more than capable of handling the 911 call volumes of all the surrounding communities.
Should the city obtain the federal grant money, the police department would commission a study — hopefully using the data and findings already outlined in similar reviews conducted in Stoneham and Reading — to confirm that the city has the appropriate infrastructure.
Federal and state officials support regionalized centers, as they cut significantly down on the cost of establishing multiple 911 call centers in each city and town. Currently, cell-phone and telephone landline users bear the brunt of those expenses through a monthly surcharge on their bills.
"Essex County just opened up a regional facility. The sheriff did it, built a [new facility], and took in 14 towns," said Ferullo, arguing that the regionalization of resources would almost surely create enough income to offset any costs associated with the change.
"As far as call volume, I can take the 911 calls. I take as many 911 calls as everybody who touches us," the police chief furthered.
While police officials are considering the regional dispatch center as a big opportunity, Ferullo emphasized that there are several obstacles, including union issues and financial obligations, that need to be carefully considered before moving forward.
Before Woburn can even be considered for reimbursement dollars — generated by running the service for neighboring communities — the city's police and fire dispatchers would have to be replaced with civilian workers.
That workplace change would have to be negotiated with collective bargaining units, and new contract language would also have to be approved that permits those civilian dispatchers to handle calls for both departments — currently rules prohibit the police department from handling emergency calls made to the fire department and visa versa.
"There would be hurdles. It has to be civilianized and up and running for a year [before we can take on partners]," the police chief explained. "It's a big decision. It's a half-million dollar decision with 10 additional bodies."
"It's going to take another $100,000 to $200,000 to build in the fire [department's dispatch] technology. I have a box [included in the new police dispatch center for that equipment], and the radio is built and functional for them," he added.
Despite those obstacles, Ferullo believes a civilian dispatch force will bring with it a variety of benefits, not the least of which includes having police officers who normally handle those duties being able to work in the street.
"Two days a week, [that officer] is a glorified telephone operator and doesn't want to be there," the police chief argued.
© The Stoneham Independent