The Southold Town Police Department is operating on a dispatch system that’s more than 15 years old.
For most of that time communication hasn’t been a problem, but since around 2012 officers say they have begun to notice certain radio dead spots around town.
In an effort to address what has become a safety concern, police officials have begun discussions with the Southold Town Board on an overhaul of its dispatch room and radio equipment.
“The system is antiquated,” explained officer Richard Buonaiuto, president of the town’s Police Benevolent Association in an interview. “There are times when we could be 10 feet away from each other and one [officer] can get through to the dispatch room and the other cannot.”
Chief Matin Flatley appeared at a Southold Town Board work session Tuesday to discuss how to move forward with plans to update the town’s equipment, starting with a new system that would allow police dispatchers to better juggle multiple emergency calls at once.
Though he was not present at the meeting, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he had spoken to police officials and recognized the “critical need” to improve its dispatch office.
Mr. Russell said he would support the department’s pitch for assistance in covering roughly $120,000 in upgrade costs by using a bond or tax promissory note.
“The money will be there,” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Flatley and Andrew Hintze, a representative from Integrated Wireless Technologies, spoke about a nearly $400,000 upgrade to the town’s dispatch system.
Chief Flatley said Southold Town police are in a unique situation compared to other towns on Long Island because they don’t just handle their own communications.
“We dispatch for two police departments … plus every fire department on the North Fork,” he said.
Mr. Hintze said a new system will replace the “obsolete, difficult to service and limited” current system, adding the equipment is no longer supported by its manufacturer and “could go down and not be repairable.”
Using the current dispatch system, authorities aren’t able to reliably monitor all the different emergency calls, Chief Flatley said.
“If there’s an incident in Southold, they can’t monitor a situation in Mattituck,” he said. Dispatchers also have to manually switch to different channels using the current dispatch system, whereas the proposed system would not only “dynamically” switch to prioritize incoming reports, but would also display individual police officers’ names during emergencies — something the current system can’t do.
Switching to a new Motorola system will make it easier to work with nearby police departments since dispatchers in East Hampton and Southampton use the same system, Mr. Hintze added.
However, that dispatch system wouldn’t solve the town police’s dead zone issues. Mr. Hintze said the town — which currently has “no less than 85 percent coverage” using its radios now — would need to individually upgrade towers and broadcasting equipment around town. Each project would likely cost upwards of $1 million, he said.
Mr. Hintze said the county may decide to expand its current 800 Mhz system farther east; if it chose to, Southold Town could receive the upgrades on the county’s dime and would be able to switch over to the county’s frequency.
But the dispatch system project wasn’t universally well-recieved. Town Councilman Robert Ghosio took issue with furniture costs for the new dispatch room, saying the price tag for each — roughly $35,000 — was too high.
“I get the feeling it’s been priced for municipality where it wouldn’t be priced like that for [the] private sector,” he said. “I’m concerned in dealing with the dead spots.”
But Town Board members Jill Doherty, Bill Ruland and James Dinizio said they felt it was important to provide a strong foundation for future dispatching upgrades; Mr. Dinizio in particular, who said he’s worked in communications before, felt the cost for furniture was appropriate considering municipal uses are normally much more intensive than at a private company.
“The base is what holds everything up,” added Mr. Ruland. “You’re looking at a system and a group of people that everyone in the town counts on at some time or another.”
Mr. Hintze said the project had a total price tag of $390,000, but $50,000 would be taken off as an incentive if the town approves the project by Aug. 30. Chief Flatley said the police department has already saved up for two-thirds of the remaining cost using money provided through a 911 call fee.
The project would take six months to complete, he said, adding that the town could complete the project during the slower fall and winter months. The Town Board will need to formally meet with Mr. Russell — who said he missed the presentation due to a personal issue — and Town Comptroller John Cushman to reach a final decision on the proposal.
Mr. Buonaiuto said after the meeting the PBA has written a pair of letters to Town Board members explaining the department’s safety concerns. He’s hopeful the situation can be addressed in the near future.
“We want to find a direction where we can begin to move forward,” he said.
Caption: The Southold Town police dispatch room. (Credit: Paul Squire)