By Lauren Zaepfel
North Tonawanda Police Benevolent Association members crowded City Hall at Tuesday's Common Council meeting to state their concerns with being a part of the Niagara County dispatch system.
Multiple members of the NTPBA expressed concern for the safety of both officers and citizens, stating the current system contributes to slower response times and inadequate communication.
North Tonawanda Police Officer Eric Herbert, speaking on behalf of the NTPBA, gave a chilling account of responding to a choking, non-responsive infant.
He explained he was recently dispatched to the wrong address, and, only after another officer called in to ask the dispatch for the cross streets was it realized the address was incorrect.
"As I was headed to the call, another officer, who was likely responsible for saving that baby's life, asked the dispatch what the cross streets for the address were," Herbert said. "Once he asked that question to the dispatch, the dispatch changed the address to another street, which means they dispatched the police to the wrong address for a 1-month old choking infant," Herbert continued.
He said another issue with the dispatch on the same call occurred after he arrived at the scene and failed his first attempt to revive the infant, now "dark purple" and "ridged" with CPR.
Herbert said he attempted to contact the fire department to expedite its response three times, but received a busy signal because a state trooper in another part of the county was using it.
Herbert then continued to try and open the airway with failed results.
"Nobody even heard me," he said. He added, "No one copied my radio messages requesting for fire expedition. The on-shift police officers who were working with me that night don't even know this was happening. What are we doing? What are you doing? How is this acceptable in 2017?"
After beginning another round of CPR, Herbert said the baby started breathing and the fire department and ambulance arrived to transport the baby to the hospital.
NTPBA President Daryl Truty spoke at the meeting, as well.
"As police and union members, we are expressing our concerns about how the county's 911 system impacts response times in our city," he said. "Tonight you've heard real people, with real experiences and real concerns. We are looking for help and our citizens are looking for help, too. We are the end users of a 911 system and this is where most of the problems happen. The administrators of the Niagara County dispatch center, elected officials, or dispatch for that matter, would have no way of knowing the problems happening on our end, where communications are sporadic, nonexistent or just failing."
The NTBPA is rallying support for a change in the dispatch system. Truty said the NTPBA's online petition "Bring Back Dispatch North Tonawanda" has received 371 signatures.
He spoke of options for improving the dispatch service for North Tonawanda.
Suggestions included North Tonawanda having its own dispatcher and radio frequency at the county's emergencies center; the sharing of commination equipment, which is controlled by Niagara County, with an NT-based dispatch; and the purchase of equipment and providing of North Tonawanda personnel to dispatch the city's emergency needs.
After the meeting, City of North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur G. Pappas provided the following statement:
"In 2012, after much study, discussion and debate, the City of North Tonawanda and the county of Niagara came to an agreement to consolidate dispatch services. This consolidation allowed the city to retire an outdated dispatch system that was unable to perform the minimum function of processing calls originated from wireless homes. Further, with this consolidation, the city was able to maintain the size of its police force and upgrade many of the police department's vehicles and SWAT equipment. Recently, the North Tonawanda Police Benevolent Association has filed a Supreme Court action and an employment charge with the public employment relations board regarding county dispatch. While both of these matters were initially unsuccessful and dismissed outright, the PBA has filed appeals regarding these matters and litigation is ongoing. As such, while the city fully appreciates Sheriff (James) Voutour's and the PBA's position, we will not have any further comment regarding dispatch pending resolution for the outstanding litigation initialed by the PBA."
He also stated, "We are certainly concerned for the safety of our police and our residents, but we're waiting for the process to take its course."