By Susan Pietras-Smith
Westmoreland County Sheriff C.O. Balderson made a presentation to the Colonial Beach Town Council (TC) at the reconvened January work session on Monday the 28th on the possibility of combining police dispatch services. At the present time Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD) has its own dispatch service, as does Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO.)
CBPD dispatchers only dispatch calls to the police department. Any calls that come in for Colonial Beach Rescue Squad (CBVRS) or Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department (CBVFD) must be transferred to the dispatchers at WCSO who can then actually dispatch rescue or fire services.
All cell phone 911 calls made in Colonial Beach are automatically routed to WCSO. When they are received, dispatchers speak to each caller to find out what services are needed. If it is a CBPD call, it is then transferred to CBPD dispatchers. This can cause a delay in police services being obtained, and in fact, according to council member Tim Curtin, happened when a call was made during the October stabbing at the Beach Gate Inn.
It also means that all 911 landline calls in Colonial Beach go to the CBPD dispatcher. If the caller is in need of rescue or fire services, the dispatcher must then transfer the call to WCSO dispatchers, which again causes a delay in services being dispatched.
Sheriff Balderson explained that no matter which agency was contacted there would be a delay as callers must explain their needs before calls are correctly routed.
Balderson stated that combining services would not only help make the citizens of Colonial Beach safer, but would be a cost savings as the town would save the cost of redundant services. While no figures are given, the town has to have a dispatcher on duty 24 hours a day and maintain equipment for the dispatchers, on all police officers, and in each car.
In fact, Interim Police Chief Seay mentioned that CBPD’s equipment is out of date, to the point that parts are no longer made for the system. He also stated that CBPD receives equipment that has been put out of service from other areas in order to have parts to patch the towns dispatch system together.
As CBPD’s dispatch system is out of date, Seay and Balderson discussed how Westmoreland County is making final plans for the new Judicial Center which will house not only courtrooms but the WCSO as well. If CBPD were to combine dispatch service with WCSO now is the time in order to save future costs, said Balderson.
Councilman Tommy Edwards asked what would happen to CBPD dispatchers if services are combined. Balderson said, “I’m not a hatchet man. There may be information that I am privy to that may disqualify folks to move to the Sheriff’s office, but all dispatchers are welcome to apply.” He said he must have the ability to make the final decisions on who would be qualified to be a WCSO dispatcher.
New councilwoman Wanda Goforth asked about upgrading the town’s equipment and the cost. Balderson stated that it was likely the equipment was too old to be upgraded and that new equipment, at quite an expense, would be required.
Mayor Mike Ham stated, “My feeling is that the staff of CBPD realize we are in Westmoreland County, and it’s time that Westmoreland realizes that we’re probably the biggest concentration of people in the entire county.” Councilman Gary Seeber stated that since Balderson became Sheriff cooperation between CBPD and WCSO has gotten better than he had seen the previous 20 years.
Westmoreland News asked whether there would be someone at the CBPD to answer requests 24 hours a day. If this combining of services were to happen, Seay and Balderson stated that there would be a receptionist Monday through Friday during business hours. They compared this to how Warsaw operates, with after hours needs directed to Richmond County.