Private 911 police telecommunications: Same job, different boss

State and local governments around the country continue to struggle with the budget crisis. Less money is available, and tax payers are less and less willing to shore up the current system with an increase in taxes. Budget restraints have created pay...

Cohen questions the ability of a private company to “redact, respond and adjust to changes.” Consalvos argues the employees at iXP come from the public safety world. “We are police officers, firefighters and EMTs,” he states. “We have a public safety mindset. This is where the management of our company have long and distinguished careers in public safety. We have a public safety focus with operations, technology and governing perspectives.”

Cohen continues to argue accountability. “Private companies need to make a return on investment,” Cohen says. “I’d rather a dispatcher make $60,000 with secure benefits and not be stressed out at work, then the company making the 10 or 12 percent rate of return.” He also reminds that without good monitoring the public could get taken.

Consalvos counters their contracts are public record and include performance, oversight and transition clauses, all of which are designed to give the public the best service, management and ability to transition back to a public call center if they are not pleased with the service.

A case study: Lawrence 

On April 1, 2013, an iXP contracted call center went live in Lawrence, NJ and police chief Dan Posluszny has nothing but good things to say about the change. “We’ve been in a budget crunch for a couple of years,” he states about his township and the state as a whole. “We had spoken about consolidation at one point and looking at dispatch services.” Prior to contracting with iXP, Lawrence’s dispatch center only had five of its nine positions filled, requiring the township to take officers off the street to fill the gaps. “It was difficult for us to retain good candidates, train and maintain them,” Posluszny explains.

On January 22, 2103, after a 4-0 vote, Lawrence became the first town in New Jersey to privatize their 911 services. iXP won in the RFP process, receiving a two-year contract paying $719,400 a year to run the emergency dispatch services. This saves the township over $1.1 million over five years when compared to the cost of having officers fill vacancies. Without the officers factored in, the cost was very similar to the bid entered to keep dispatch internal. All current employees were encouraged to apply with the new company.

“For the first year, we matched their salary and then went to pay-for-performance,” says Consalvos. “We had 400 applicants for 14 openings; 40 applicants have prior public safety experience, not only dispatchers but police officers and fire personnel as well. We have a waiting list.”

As far as familiarity with the town…which was a big concern prior to the change…Posluszny states, “When everything is done computer-aided with standard operating procedures at your fingertips, knowing the town is not really that important.” Posluszny explains the testing, hiring and training is better than anything they had to offer. “They had the ability to pick it up and move on and get to a high level of operating very quickly,” says Posluszny.

“I love it. The service is so much better.” Posluszny believes the reason behind all the positives is the company. “If you get a good company with [iXP’s] background and their ability, I don’t see it as a negative,” Posluszny states. “The whole idea is to provide 911 to the public and they do that. Win-win for the community all around.”

Cohen and many police telecommunications operators still have doubts when it comes to turning over a vital public service to a for-profit corporation. “When you have somebody calling in an emergency and you need highly trained people with closed managerial control that are the linchpin between you being saved, that is the last thing I want to take out of control of the public,” explains Cohen. Consalvos disagrees. “It’s a different model,” he states. “But for some it’s a viable opportunity. There is a lot of fear. Part of the fear is fear of change.”

As budgets continue to strain public services, officials will have to start thinking outside the norm. As this happens, we might even see the job stay the same while the boss changes.