SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 22, 2013

Essex, Wenham first to switch to regional dispatch

(Continued)

When the $10 million center is fully operational, it will also handle 911 police and fire calls for Beverly, Middleton, Topsfield and Amesbury. That’s only a fraction of what it is designed to handle, however. Those six communities encompass an area with 80,000 people, but the center has the capacity to handle an area with more than 200,000, Pratt said.

The center proved controversial when it was proposed in 2009, with questions about its operation, costs and the creation of a bureaucracy at the Sheriff’s Department. Many police unions objected to losing dispatcher jobs locally. More than half of the 13 communities that the center was originally envisioned to support have opted out.

But Silva said it’s a good deal for Essex, offering cutting-edge equipment, technology and a record-management system that the town couldn’t afford otherwise.

“We are working with very dated, obsolete equipment,” he said. “We are working like dinosaurs here in an archaic building.”

There will be several upgrades made to the Essex police station, including installation of a phone and camera system so people can call into the new dispatch center in Middleton from the lobby, day and night. The feeds will be patched into the cruiser laptops, Silva said.

Silva said regional dispatch centers like this are “the wave of the future” and provide advanced systems for towns in a cost-effective way.

“This is almost designed for this community. You have the same people answering the calls, but the phone is just ringing somewhere else,” he said. “This is just a smarter and better way of doing business.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.

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