The information that is revealed at election time is often quite interesting. Case in point: The Niagara County Sheriff's Department uses a system that is referred to as "silent dispatch" when sending out certain calls. Apparently silent dispatch is used when dispatchers do not want a call to go out over the normal communication method, radio. Silent dispatch allows the dispatcher to send a communication directly to the sheriff deputy's in-car computer, so people who may be listening, those with scanners, including other law enforcement agencies, cannot get the call.
From what we have learned, the use of silent dispatch was implemented to stop other law enforcement from "jumping" county deputy's calls. Supposedly there are turf wars between the different law enforcement agencies related to who exactly is going to get the calls, and thus the glory, when 911 emergencies arise.
This is obviously something the general public does not hear too much about. There may be "no harm no foul" in such a public policy; unless that policy places the public in danger, which we have learned that it has.
About three years ago, there was a very high profile local case involving a teen aged girl and her brother. We will leave out the details, but both of the siblings were severely assaulted. Eventually, a passerby saw one of the victims running from the scene of these horrific crimes and called police. When dispatching the call, the NCSD used silent dispatch.
Here's the problem. There wasn't a Sheriff anywhere in the immediate vicinity, but there was a Niagara Falls Police vehicle less than two minutes away. Now, there is no insinuation that any police agency could have prevented these horribly traumatic events from occurring, but as anyone who has been a victim of a crime knows, seeing those flashing lights and hearing those sirens can make all the difference in the world. As anyone in law enforcement knows, response time may make the difference in whether or not an assailant is captured or not. Because the NCSD used silent dispatch, Niagara Falls didn't get the call, just county deputies. This use of silent dispatch delayed the nearest law enforcement agency from responding immediately. That is an absolute travesty.
It gets worse: There is a seven page document prepared by the New York State Police that details the pratfalls of the NCSD using silent dispatch. In it, a vehicle accident is documented in which a male occupant burned to death in his vehicle. In this opinion, it is believed that the use of silent dispatch, and thus the delayed response in getting to the scene, is a significant factor in the death. We are working to get the entire seven page document.
The topic of silent dispatch came up recently in a relatively innocuous manner. Candidate Ernest Palmer mentioned it on a recent appearance on WJJL. From what we have learned, candidate James Voutour was so infuriated with Palmer having knowledge of silent dispatch, he called a meeting at the Sheriff's Department in which he not only addressed the shift currently on duty, he called in the afternoon shift early demanding to know who "leaked" the use of silent dispatch to Palmer.
He allegedly went as far as to single out two highly respected deputies, accusing them of being the leak, in front of a room full of their peers. This is problematic on multiple fronts. How can Voutour waste taxpayer dollars by calling in a second shift early? Secondly, how the hell is he allowed to conduct politics on taxpayer's time, in the department? If you're wondering how we know he was politicking, we've heard from multiple sources that he addressed Palmer by name, at one point calling him an idiot. Classy.
Obviously the use of silent dispatch is the biggest problem here. If this practice is putting the lives of the community in harms way, it needs to be eliminated. However, there are times when silent dispatch would be needed, such as a break-in in progress when silence would be needed should the perpetrators have a scanner. But for life saving circumstances? Please.
Review the policy, amend the policy, do whatever you need to do to make sure people's lives are not at risk. If the department doesn't and something tragic occurs, the department and those responsible for the policy will have serious issues.
UPDATE: Niagara Times has received possession of the document mentioned above. We are in the process of determining how best to proceed with the information received.