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Chief Legg on Police Dispatch, “The move didn’t make it new!”

Colonial Beach Police Chief Elizabeth, “Libby” Legg is taking a second look at police dispatch through the county, with Council’s approval.

One year after consolidating police dispatch with Westmoreland County, the nearly identical council that voted unanimously to the move, has agreed to allow Chief Legg to explore the advantages and disadvantages to police dispatch consolidation.
Legg said, “The move didn’t make it new! We still are operating with the same system; it just got moved.”

On May 1, 2013, the seated council; Mayor Mike Ham, Tommy Edwards, Gary Seeber, Wanda Goforth, Linda Brubaker and Tim Curtin (now replaced by Pete Bone) held a special meeting and voted unanimously to pass Resolution 28-13, authorizing CB’s Town Manager to execute an agreement to transfer police dispatch services on behalf of the Town, effective July 1, 2013.

Councilman Jim Chiarello, who was sitting on council but did not attend the meeting when Resolution 28-13 was passed, said, “It’s great that we can rethink some of the things we decided on and correct our mistakes.”

There is controversy with Verizon over leased communications equipment. Originally, these items were supposed to go back, however, Legg said she has seen an email from Verizon stating these items were outdated, and they did not want them back.

CBPD leased some components of the radio system from Verizon and owned two base radios outright. Both radios went to Westmoreland County as per the dispatch agreement, however Westmoreland County gave one to the CB Volunteer Fire Department (CBVFD). Legg said that Fire Chief Dave Robey has it, but she doesn’t know why. She speculated, “I think it was for interoperability; if Westmoreland ever went down, then fire could dispatch. The reality of it is the police department gave up a good deal of our ability to be self-sustaining, and it was turned around and given to the fire department. I don’t know what happened to that; it was prior to me coming here. It was very confusing, coming in, to see what had happened.”

Chief Legg understands that the reason the council made the move was fear of calls getting dropped, but she does not believe that consolidation has solved the risk, since she has learned that calls to 911 from a cell phone still go to Maryland first, and landlines go to Westmoreland County.

“That is why I was asking permission to research it, because I don’t feel like we are serving the needs of the community as best as we can.”

Another problem with equipment is that the town has a repeater located on the water tower, which bounces a radio signal from one radio to another. The agreement does not clearly define who is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the repeater. To keep it operational, the repeater requires a generator when the power is out and for cooling, because when it runs, it gets hot.  

Legg said that shortly after she arrived, when the power failed, the repeater went down, and radio communications were lost for a couple of hours, because no one realized that the town was responsible for it. Since then, the town has hardwired the repeater into a generator.

Furthermore, radio transmissions frequently break up or don’t go through. Legg said, “I talked to Dave Robey; he said it gets worse in the summer with the heat and humidity, causing the quality of the transmissions to be garbled or break up.”

It was hoped by officials that the move would bring new equipment, but it has only moved control of dispatch to the county and displaced town dispatchers who now have to commute to Montross.

In a personal interview, Legg explained more problems with consolidated dispatch and how inadequate communications are costing not only time and money for the town, but losing the public’s confidence in the police department.

Legg said, “When we make an arrest, we have a prisoner in custody; if they are combative, we have to secure them. We have to have a criminal report before we talk to the magistrate through telecommunications. In the past, dispatch in CB would already be making a background check as soon as the prisoner was in custody.

With Westmoreland County dispatching, we have to fax a request to Westmoreland for the criminal record and wait for it to be faxed back. Sometimes faxes don’t come through, and you have to start over. So, it just has convoluted the whole system. It’s not as efficient; it’s not streamline; plus just having another warm body in the building is really nice.”

Legg said for the public it is much more personal, and she worries that if a person comes into the building and is running from a domestic assault, they have no one there to help. The lobby area is small, and there is a phone to call 911 to get the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office, an intercom button, which goes to the empty building, and the window is blocked off. It is very confusing for people entering the building for help.

Chief Legg wants to explore whether it is more efficient to retain dispatch for all 911 services, including fire and rescue, which may also make more grant resources available to Colonial Beach.

“I understand they want the overlapping services provided by rescue; if you can’t get enough people to respond to one call, then hit some other departments. But, I think that could be done just as efficiently here. The calls that are dropped, we are relying on them to fax us information routinely, and it doesn’t get done in a timely fashion because something else happens. And, I understand that happens. I think that having our own resources close by...it also puts a face in the building when someone walks in, and I think it is important, too.”

At the meeting, Legg told the council that she has a goal to rebuild the reputation of the police department. Her research revealed the CBPD is perceived as a second-rate agency, which she said broke her heart. Legg said she has 29 years experience in law enforcement, and “to work somewhere where you’re not respected is tough”.

Legg’s approach to gaining respect starts with accountability and rebuilding relationships.

She told the council that by handing over dispatch to Westmoreland County, citizens have to adjust to a lower level of service, since many calls previously handled by CBPD are not always relayed to the town.

Libby believes that many public services previously offered by CBPD, such as dogs barking, checking on neighbors’ well-being etc., are not getting through because Colonial Beach has turned over dispatch and no longer answers the non-emergency number.

“I would love to see dispatch come back,” Legg said, adding, “Radios have gone down twice since I got here. We are using the same radios since we gave it away!”

Linda Farneth

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