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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


Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein said...

Do you remember what was the original reason that Bethlehem never joined the County 911 originally? If you remember, can you illuminate me?

Bernie O'Hare said...

When 911 first came about in Northampton County, it was such a mess that Bethlehem stayed out. It s in two counties, so that slightly complicated things.

Anonymous said...

Regionalization is key but small mindedness will prevail...

Bernie O'Hare said...

When Bethlehem police express concerns about tracking crime in real time, one would be an idiot not to pay attention. A mindless approach to regionalism for the sake of regionalism is pure nonsense. I would favor what Stoffa proposes, a LV approach, but with police having a veto power if they are not satisfied.

Anonymous said...

As a Northampton County resident I believe that if Bethlehem wnts in on 911 theyt should pick up the cost of the study. Bethlehem buys what it wants and begs what it needs.

Anonymous said...

My goodness JS, make a decision. It us so frustrating to again see him delay a decision because he is unsure of what he should do. Leadership is about decision making, especially when difficult. This conversation could take years and there is nothing awkward about starting it now. It may last long beyond the election. JC showed true leadership by initiating something he is not necessarily supportive of but knows some of his council members and residents are.

Please JS: if you don't want to lead, get out of the way.

Anonymous said...

I read in his literature Reibman wants NorCo to absorb Bethlehem's system.

Anonymous said...

Beggars can't be choosers. If Bethlehem switches over, it gets what it gets. If it wants cadilac service it needs to stay with its own dispatch. End of discussion. Not sure why this is so complicated and why a committee and bi county talks are needed. Geesh.

Anonymous said...

What a stupid idiotic letter from the Mayor. Anon 6:28 is right. The arrogance displayed by the Bethlehem Mayor is laughable. He is interested in basically free County service but wants all the bells and whistles he has at the City. How about this, if he gets all that he wants for his precious City, every other county municipality gets the precise SAME!! How about this Mr. Mayor .. you get what you get. No more, no less at the same cost that everyone else gets. One last thing any studies are stupid and should be paid for by the Mayor not the Northampton County Taxpayers. Better yet Stoffa needs to say NO and tell the City you get what is on the menu only. What a joke. No wonder government costs so much money. These guys no never when to stop!

Uncle Remus said...

The 911 system is costly but it is also vital to the public safety and interests. It should remain in Bethlum at all costs.

This is how you pay for it, save present costs, future legacy costs and make money as well.

The Mayor should be the only person taking a vehicle home at night. One person drives back and forth from Quakertown, another bushkill. If these people have to respond is it that their private vehicles can not make it to bethlum. There are dozens others who are abusing this also. You will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenace costs.

Privatize the 2 golf courses, the skating rink and the grass cutting.
By doing this you could eliminate at least 10 union positions. The city is paying upwards of $50,000 a year plus full benefits to have grass cut.

Next you privatize the city garage eliminating at least another 10 union positions.

These moves would also eliminate some hall walking so called management positions.

You may have to switch a few of the union positions to PW to take care of other services like snow plowing and leaf collection but your over all present and future savings would be tremendous thus freeing up monies for the 911 system.

Anonymous said...

I agree that 911 consolidation should be put off until there is a new executive..Makes sense..So does the idea of putting off a new Human Service building that costs millions, no? Maybe I missed it but when I watched the county council meeting I didn't notice hordes of Human Service folks demanding a new building right now.

Anonymous said...

The City of Bethlehem had the opportunity to be part of the County 911 system when the County first started 911. The City initally wanted to be part of the county system and then for political reasons went on their own. The County system at the time was close to being state of the art. Let's not forget, Bethlehem lies in two Counties. Because Bethlehem had a 911 system, Northampton County cannot tax Bethlehem for the County 911 system because they had the right to opt out under the Home Rule Charter. If the City becomes part of the 911 sytem they will be taxed by the County for the service. Will Bethlehem's City tax to its residents be reduced? I don't think so. And what about West Bethlehem. How does Northampton County Tax West Bethlehem for a 911 service when West Bethlehem is in Lehigh County.This is a little more complicated than simply throwing a switch. If Northampton County has a 911 system that is not state of the art, then shame on them. Do something about it. This issue shouldn't be political , however it will be. Had Seyfried not dragged his feet on 911 and had Brackbill not signed an agreement in deficance of County council for 45 million dollars, 911 would never had come to fruition in Northampton County. The 911 center is the result of Brackbill signing a Contract (questionable about the way it happened). They should name the 911 Center the Brackbill Building. It was also the issue that defeated him for re-election. Reibman of all people should not be part of the equation.
You should not wait for a new council or a new Executive. Move ahead starting right now.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a switch to the County-run 911 system would be beneficial to Bethlehem. The radio system in the City is more advanced than the County, and the two are incompatible. The County would need to hire at least the same number of personnel that the City has,just to accommodate the increase in activity, and we all know that will not likely happen. The County system is already understaffed at times, and rumor has it that discipline and morale are not at their best.
And, to set the record straight, Bethlehem City had 911 service before Northampton County. Because of that,they were able to opt out of the County-run system when 911 became mandatory Statewide. No other municipality in Northampton County had 911 service, so no one else could opt out.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem is the largest entity within the county. It has crime pockets and it has it's share of bad actors. It also has a legitimate need to "watch" what's going on, especially in the higher crime areas. I was fortunate to have been given a tour of the comm center; it's an impressive collection of high technology and dedicated professionals, who use their insticts and their equipment to keep Bethlehem as one of PA's safest large communities. That does not happen by accident.

Keep the comm center in Bethlehem.


Anonymous said...

Callihan is failing to lead hear. The guy writes a letter of inquiry suggesting he is interested in this move but fills the letter with consequences and problems he wants others to answer for.

The guy needs to make a decision, come up with answers to the potential gaps, and present them as part of his reasoning as he makes this happen. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time.

Anonymous said...

Please, if nothing else this study will show how poorly operated the county system is currently. Have you ever called 911. It's like you are the criminal. Before they dispatch a police officer, EMS or fire, they drill you on who you are, what you are wearing, what kind of car you are in, etc. Then they get the facts for which you ar ecalling and then, about 3-4 minutes later, they send your call to a dispatcher who them decided on your priority before sending a response. I am told it could be 5 minutes. If Bethlehem has a trained dispatcher in the seat, with monitors throughout the city, believe me it is much better than our county system.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This complaint is nonsense. If this were remotely true, Council would be hearing about it. Instead they get compliments on 911. Don't trash the county system simply bc you like yours better.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Callihan is failing to lead hear."

If you want to criticize Callahan's leadership, learn to spell his name. And learn the difference between "hear" and "here."

Bernie O'Hare said...

" Maybe I missed it but when I watched the county council meeting I didn't notice hordes of Human Service folks demanding a new building right now."

At a finance committee the day before, numerous workers spoke out, and you called them Stoffa lackeys.

c said...

Sound reasoning in the letter from our current exec. Keep politics out of this decision.

Carol said...

Morning Bernie, I just finished reading 911 comments, to Anonymous 10:51, I have a heart ailment, OHCM, have needed the ambulance via: our 911 system at least 8 times, never anything but professional, courteous and expedient. Carol