Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Should Bethlehem 911 Merge With Northampton County?
As reported in The Express Times, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan supports a study on switching its 911 system to the County. Some of Bethlehem's Council members have toured the County facility at the Gracedale campus in Upper Nazareth. So far, the proposed switch has no real support. It is even opposed by Police Chief Jason Schiffer.
Incompatible radio frequencies are one problem, but the real difficulty to police is that a County 911 might make it harder for them to stop crime while it is happening.
Last year, Mayor Callahan gave me an example of a then recent robbery on Bethlehem' South Side. A 911 call was made, and the dispatcher immediately went to the cameras trained on that area, which are in Bethlehem's 911 center. The 911 operator was able to track the robber as he left the store, tore off a sweatshirt and started making his way across the Fahy Bridge. Police were able to nail the bad guy before he knew what had happened.
"Would you pay more for a system that could do this?" Mayor Callahan asked me. I would. I think most of us would.
I have not spoken to Bob Mateff, who runs Northampton County's 911 system. But I've been told that Bethlehem might lose the capacity to track crime in real time if it makes the switch. This appears to be the concern of Bethlehem police.
To those of who who always talk about bloated government and making cuts, here's an example why there should be no hard and fast rule. The primary function of government, especially local government, is to protect its citizens. That takes money.
Mayor John Callahan's Letter to Executive John Stoffa:
Executive John Stoffa's Reply:
I am writing in regard to your attached letter of January 24, 2013. I have given this subject considerable thought. I am not opposed to meeting with you, your staff, Bob Mateff and perhaps a member of County Council to see what immediate things we could do together to save money. In this regard, I have asked Bob Mateff to give me a report on this issue. I do believe, however, that a long range study should be put off until there is a new County Executive in Northampton County & and new Mayor in Bethlehem. The fact that you are a candidate for County Executive while being the Mayor of Bethlehem, places you in an awkward position. Furthermore, the Sunday, January 27, 2013 edition of the Express Times, noted that candidates for the mayor of Bethlehem favored keeping 911 with the City.
My recommendation would be for the group to begin by looking at a 911 system for the entire Lehigh Valley. I truly think this is possible. Lehigh County would have to be contacted. If the leaders next year are not interested in this, they could begin looking at a joint effort between Bethlehem & Northampton County. My personal belief is that there should be an independent group of representatives from the City of Bethlehem & Northampton County (separate from politics as much as possible) appointed to study this issue assisted by an independent outside consultant.
I am available anytime to discuss this in more detail.
/s/ John Stoffa