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County officials address concerns about new radio system

January 28, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

Recent concerns among local fire and police departments over a new radio system were addressed during the County Legislature's Public Safety Committee meeting.

Joe Gerace, county sheriff, and Julius Leone, emergency services director, came before the committee Wednesday to discuss the new system and the reported communication and cost concerns relayed by local departments.

The system, courtesy of a $6 million state grant to the sheriff's office, allows first responders to communicate person to person from every corner of the county while bringing together communications from police, fire and emergency services. Gerace said gateways will be in place as the new system becomes live in March, allowing police and fire departments across the county to communicate without issue.

"We will have gateways so conventional radios will work with our system," Gerace said. "We're not leaving anybody out to dry. That would not be in the best interests of public safety. We don't want to rush to that day where we flip the switch. We want to test the equipment repeatedly and solve the issues raised."

For first responders, mobile and portable radios needed in their vehicles and on their person are not covered in the state grant and require funding through other sources. The Emergency Services Department received a $400,000 grant for the 3rd Battalion last year and recently sent out four grants totaling $4 million for portable equipment.

Leone said fire departments had the opportunity to apply for Assistance to Firefighters grants with the deadline expiring last Friday.

"I'm hoping that they did do that," Leone said. "That door was open for them if they did. If we receive the portable equipment and are fortunate to get all four grants, that would be phenomenal. If not, we'll keep pecking away at it. We're trying to find all the grants that we can."

On the law enforcement side, Gerace said the sheriff's office will continue to search for other grant opportunities. Gerace said the current radio system is obsolete, and change can be hard.

"We had to move on from the radio system," Gerace said. "We wanted to move because our system was obsolete. In fact, we had a situation (Wednesday) in the town of Stockton which ended up being resolved peacefully. It could have been very tenuous, and (the situation) was a man with a weapon and other issues. Dispatch could not hear our people and it was dangerous. We've got to move into the 21st century and we will make it a smooth transition as possible."

Leone said the testing is proving positive with coverage in every corner of the county.

"Out of the 4,000 tiles laid out in the county, three of them didn't pass," he said. "Police and fire (departments) are going to be so happy when they see how this operates."

During the meeting, committee members accepted a 200 Percent of Poverty Alternatives to Incarceration grant. The $165,473 award will be used to provide programs to eligible individuals and families whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Through the grant, programming will incorporate evidence-based cognitive behavioral treatment to address errors in thinking that lead to offending behaviors.

Committee members also authorized execution of a grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service to obtain live scan fingerprinting equipment. The equipment used by the sheriff's office captures an individual's fingerprints in a digital format, allowing officers the ability to correctly identify an individual.

The committee authorized an agreement with Mina Town Court for court security detail. The town requested the sheriff's office to provide part-time deputy sheriffs on designated court nights. The tentative agreement for Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 would not exceed $2,000 based on an hourly rate of $27.64.



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