Dropping dispatcher positions at the Sandwich police and fire departments in favor of regional dispatching might be a way to save some money.
But to Sandwich Police Chief Peter N. Wack and Sandwich Fire Chief William C. Carrico II, town residents may decide that turning the police and fire headquarters into “dark stations” might be too high a price to pay.
At present, dispatchers staff both the police and fire stations around the clock on Route 6A.
Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings has proposed creating a regional dispatch center that would answer emergency calls now fielded by dispatchers in towns, such as Sandwich.
For now, the regional proposal remains a concept rather than a regional system that Sandwich could join.
At a recent finance committee meeting that reviewed the public safety budgets for the coming fiscal year, finance committee member Gene J. Parini raised the issue of regional dispatching.
Chief Wack said that switching to a regional dispatch system effectively would require the police station to lock its doors and “go dark” during any time period during the day when the station was not otherwise staffed.
But the chief said that could pose a problem in a relatively small, rural town such as Sandwich.
“One of my concerns is that of ensuring that we have a system in place for the community to have direct access to the police and fire departments,” Chief Wack stated.
“We regularly tell people that police departments are a safe place to go if you are being followed, the victim of domestic violence, in fear for your safety, injured, lost...” the chief said.
“People want access to us,” Chief Wack said.
Local knowledge is also important for call takers and dispatchers to have, according to the chief.
“Should dispatching leave Sandwich, we will need to develop a system which may involve hiring more positions to staff our departments for the public, watch prisoners and answer routine business calls that frequent our department,” Chief Wack said. “Without these positions our staffing will remain the same.”
At the finance committee meeting, Chief Wack said he would prefer to increase staffing on day and evening shifts and within its detective unit to address public safety demands on the department.
The chief also told the committee that the police department, with its own 911 emergency call system, also has been the beneficiary of an annual $45,000 grant that covers costs for items such as the mobile laptops carried and used by officers in their cruisers.
If the department’s 911 system were to cease, Chief Wack said the department no longer would qualify for the grant and would somehow have to come up with the funds to cover those items.
Chief Carrico said the key concern, ahead of financial savings, is what the best approach is for the town in terms of service.
Chief Wack said an advantage of the combined police-fire facility that has been proposed for Sandwich is combining dispatching for the two departments while retaining local knowledge and control.
Last year, Sandwich voters defeated a proposal for a new public safety facility. A new proposal likely will not go before the voters until next year.
At the finance committee meeting, town manager George H. Dunham called the regional dispatching concept “a huge political football.”
But Mr. Dunham also said the town would be foolish not to at least consider ways to handle dispatching less expensively.
“We really do need to look at it,” the town manager said. “We should keep an open mind to look at what the numbers are.”