BY JOE OLENICK
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara County Sheriff's Office will handle all dispatching duties for the New York State Police's barracks in the towns of Niagara and Lockport, beginning today.
Sheriff James R. Voutour said phone lines will be transferred today from the Lockport barracks to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office 911 center, while state troopers will switch over to the sheriff’s office police radio frequency as their primary channel. State troopers were previously handling dispatching duties from the Lockport barracks.
The only significant change will be for those who dial the state police barracks directly, Voutour said. The sheriff's office was already handling dispatch services for state police calls outside Lockport and Niagara Falls.
"We do a lot of it now," Voutour said.
The 911 center also dispatches calls for the sheriff’s office, Niagara County town and village police departments, the City of North Tonawanda Police and Fire departments and all county volunteer fire and ambulance services.
And even before Thursday's announcement, the sheriff’s office 911 center was handling all emergency calls that came from a cell phone within Niagara County.
Discussion about combining dispatching services started about 12 years ago.
The Niagara County Public Safety Training Center, which houses the 911 center and is located next to the Niagara County Jail on Niagara Street Extension, was funded by the Niagara County Legislature in January 2001 through a resolution using tobacco settlement funds. The goal then was to move toward one consolidated dispatch center and the Sheriff’s Office moved its dispatch functions there in 2007. "And here we are 12 years later," Voutour said.
The 911 center maintains a staff of approximately 30 civilian dispatchers, with each shift staffed with 4 to 6 dispatchers. Even though the staff is stretched thin as is, the center will be able to handle the new arrangement, Voutour said.
"We're hoping we can accommodate," he said. "They're pretty taxed, but no (extra dispatchers) as of right now."
The center's dispatchers have full 911 accreditation status from New York state. To receive that accreditation, the center was required to meet several difficult standards as required by Albany which included many hours of difficult training for the dispatchers, the sheriff's office said.
Voutour said the new dispatch arrangement with the state police comes at a time when governments are being asked to cut expenses and share services. Combining dispatching into one central location is advantageous, he said.
And there is a full upgrade in radios and towers for communication currently under way.
Sometime in August the county will finish a $10 million project with Motorola that will narrow the current bandwidth for police communications to free up addition spectrum space for first responders and private industry. The project is a result of Niagara County having to meet new federal mandates.
The sheriff’s office also received a $750,000 state grant to upgrade computer-aided dispatching. Voutour said Niagara County applied for the annual grant last year and received the biggest award in the state.
The upgrade will allow all police, fire and emergency agencies to share the same software system and, therefore, the same information.
In a statement, State Police Capt. Craig Hanesworth said he believed that the consolidation of dispatch services "provides the citizens of Niagara County with the best in police service and response times while also providing for an increase in the safety of our officers."
Troopers that would've normally handled dispatch or clerical work will now be reassigned to road patrol, Hanesworth said.
People can still contact staff at the state police barracks for non-emergencies by calling 434-5589. There will also be an emergency call box located at the front door of the Lockport barracks that will ring into the 911 center and the closest available police car will be dispatched to the barracks.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.