PATERSON — City officials say Paterson residents making 911 calls will get quicker emergency responses as part of the merger of the police and fire departments approved by the city council last week.
The dispatch centers that currently take 911 calls for the two departments will be consolidated under the merger, officials said. The city also recently acquired about $1.5 million worth of new telecommunications equipment that will dramatically improve the 911 system, said Jerry Speziale, Paterson’s police director, who will become public safety director under the change.
“Right now, if you call 911 on a cell phone, you can end up in five different places,” including emergency dispatch centers in Wayne and West Trenton, Speziale said. Once the new equipment is put into operation later this year, all 911 calls made within Paterson would go directly to the city’s consolidated communications center, said the director.
Councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee, said the recent 911 calls made by Jameek Lowery — and the fact that he was transferred from one dispatcher to another — underscored the problem with the city’s system.
“That was time being wasted,” Jackson said. “If someone’s life is at risk, you need to get the ambulance there as soon as possible.”
The city’s public works department and emergency management division also will become part of the consolidated communications center, which will operate at police headquarters. Officials said the change in the dispatch center will be the most tangible aspect of the merger in terms of the impact on the general public.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Kathleen Long, said other changes under the merger will take place “behind the scenes” in ways that won’t affect residents. The fire and police departments will operate pretty much the same as they do now, officials said.
City officials said they expect the merger will result in the elimination of 11 jobs and about $727,000 worth of salary.
Calculations provided by Long to Paterson Press said the cuts include:
$265,547 in savings by eliminating one of the police department’s three deputy chief positions and one lieutenant’s slot. Long said those jobs would be shed through attrition with upcoming retirements.
$273,128 in savings by scrapping two vacant fire captain slots.
$189,000 in savings with the elimination of seven police and fire telecommunications jobs, mostly through attrition.
Long said Speziale’s salary will not change as a result of the new public safety title.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which monitors Paterson’s finances as one of the conditions of the city getting transitional aid from the state, had urged the city to enact the merger, which has been in the works since 2016.