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POLICE BUDGET: New Dispatcher Needed to Be Sure All 911 Calls Answered in Groton

The first Finance Committee hearings of individual town department budgets began on Saturday, Feb 1, starting with the Groton Police Department.

Chief Donald Palma advised the Fin Com that he planned an adequate cushion in his budget to cover emergencies for unanticipated expenses, noting that the number of investigations over the last several months resulted in overtime expenses. He highlighted some areas of his budget that are "notable increases" including cruiser maintenance and the cost of gasoline. "We average 1500 gallons per month," the Chief said, noting that gasoline use increases based on the number of storms.

Chief Palma stressed that the "budget is basically flat, with any increases [coming] in contractual areas, gasoline, overtime and vehicles." Groton Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager asked about the $1100 allowance for cleaning police officers uniforms, and the $4K for the lease of a motorcycle.

The Chief explained that the allowance for cleaning uniforms was contractual, and noted that it amounted to $15 per week per officer to clean three shirts and three pairs of uniform pants. Prager commented that we must have very clean police officers to which the Chief replied," I insist that they are clean."

The purpose for the motorcycle, the Chief explained, it that is allows police to have access to the Rail Trail and assist in traffic enforcement. He pointed out that this also reduces the use of gasoline to 2 to 3 gallons where a cruiser might use ten gallons. The motorcycle is not in use in the winter or fall months, and does not operate after midnight the Chief said.

In the Dispatch Center budget, the Chief is asking for one additional fulltime person in the dispatch center while reducing some of the part time personnel. Groton is a regional dispatch center that covers the Town of Dunstable, who pays $65K per year for this support. This also enables the Dispatch Center to be eligible for $200K grant every year based on a state formula.

The Chief advised that in July 2012 there was a change from the state that on how a town does emergency medical dispatch, so we end up doing 'risk management'. During the late hours, there is one dispatcher on duty and with the increase in calls the Chief said he would like two people covering emergency dispatch on a 24 x 7 basis. He cautioned that the state could, in fact, withhold funds if we do not follow state protocol for emergency medical dispatch, by not having two dispatchers on duty.

Chief Palma advised that during an emergency call, the dispatchers "do not do data entry while they are on the phone and contacting the police and fire department personnel." He said the process is to write down what happened and do the data entry a short time later after the personnel and vehicles have been sent to the emergency.

He cited the numerous frantic calls that came into the Dispatch Center from the Blood Farm fire that had to be handled, while sending out the police, fire and ambulances and said that if there was an accident on Route #119, it could result in forty 911 calls to the Dispatch Center. The Chief advised that there is a process that if dispatch cannot answer within 10 rings, the 911 call will roll over to the mutual aid towns starting with Pepperell, then Townsend. Chief Palma stressed, "We rarely rollover any 911 calls." However, if we don't hire the dispatcher, calls may have to go to another town.

The chief said from 2005 to 2009 calls for services to the Dispatch Center have skyrocketed - from house alarms, burglaries, loud radios, etc. He stressed, however, that very few calls to 911 were nuisance calls. The Dispatch Center received about 45K calls and that include Groton, Dunstable, Fire Department and business lines.

"It really is a matter of public safety at this point," the Chief said, adding if two medical emergency calls come in at the same time and they are equally urgent, it is not cost effective to call in a police officer from the road to cover as a dispatcher. He advised that there are these types of close calls at least two times per month.

Chairman Prager asked how much was paid toward the Communications Center by the DPW, water department and light departments for their services and suggested that perhaps,"Dunstable should foot more of the bill." Chief Palma said that during the day several of those departments have someone in the office to answer those calls, but that they go to the dispatchers after 5 p.m.

The protocol in the state is that even if the Dispatch Center received a 911 call with no one on the other end of the line, it is answered. The Chief cited an unanswered call in Lexington some years ago where a woman was being murdered and stressed "Whenever a 911 call comes in, we respond."

Chairman Prager asked about the budget request for three cruisers. The Chief advised him that a change in the manufacture by the Ford Motor Company - moving away from the Crown Victoria model to a new style caused a six-month delay in delivery. The plan was to recycle the older cruisers including the one that was involved in an accident into unmarked cars when new cruisers arrived. The department was banking on using the recycled cruisers, but the mileage increase over the six month delay made it not practical for use. This year, the Chief is asking for three cruisers, and said then it would go back to the two year plan.

Town Manager Mark Haddad said that in the fall the town bought two cruisers and the other moved from marked to unmarked, and the cruiser that was in the accident was totaled. "WE should have asked for three new cruisers instead of two."

Groton Herald

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
[Prescott Community Center]

Telephone: 978-448-6061

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