County dispatchers ordered not to have Bethel handle calls for OCSD
An e-mail last Thursday from Oxford County Emergency Management Director Jim Miclon to 20 county dispatchers has reached, both in electronic and photocopied form, a much larger law-enforcement audience.
And in the Bethel area at least, the message is not being well received. It is being perceived as an attempt to denigrate the Bethel Police Department and influence the upcoming town vote on whether to keep that department or contract for law-enforcement services from the Oxford County Sheriff's Department. It is also being portrayed as a threat to public safety.
The e-mail relays, in boldface type, a directive to the dispatchers from Chief Deputy Dane Tripp. It reads as follows:
"PER: Chief Deputy D. Dane Tripp, we are not to dispatch Bethel Police Department to any calls that will be assigned to the Oxford County Sheriff's Office.
Do Not Ask Bethel Police Department to Cover Any Call for the Sheriff's Office Period.
I cannot stress enough on how important it is that you DO NOT ASK, OR DISPATCH BETHEL PD TO ANYTHING FOR THE SHERIFF'S OFFICE.
Director James P. Miclon"
Procedural tightening up
Contacted by The Citizen about the e-mail, County Sheriff Wayne Gallant said Wednesday it was in no way an attempt to influence the upcoming Bethel vote. (“We're trying to stay right out of the Bethel thing.”)
The e-mail, he said, was instead an attempt to tighten up dispatching procedures that had grown slack.
For example, he said, when there is an incident at night (and no deputies are on duty), “Dispatch is supposed to call one of the deputies in the shift that is coming on.”
If they are unable to reach a deputy, he said, “they are supposed to call either me or the chief, so that we get somebody to respond if it's a call that needs responding to. But what's apparently been happening a lot of nights is they're just calling somebody from another agency and saying: 'Hey, do you mind doing us a favor and going to check that.'
“In most cases we don't have a problem with that, but legally you run into some liability issues,” he said. If the officers who do respond have not been asked “through the system” (i.e., being requested through the agency with primary responsibility for the area in question) the sheriff said, “they have no jurisdictional authority, and if they go and arrest somebody you could have problems, especially on the further end down court.”
He cited an April 5 call in Bryant Pond, which, he said, prompted the e-mail.
A Bethel officer, arriving on the scene, before a deputy had arrived, made an arrest and transported an intoxicated male to the county jail.
“The guy was drunk and passed out,” Gallant said, “and our guy was going to be coming to it eventually anyway.”
The point was not that the Bethel officer made the arrest, he said, but that proper protocol was not followed, “and apparently that's why [Tripp] sent the message to his staff.”
Asked if the stricter adherence to protocol would compromise public safety in towns surrounding Bethel, Gallant said: “in no way.”
And asked why Bethel was the only agency singled out in the memo, Gallant cited the fact that it was the only town in the area where a single police department is surrounded by territory covered by the county.
But others in the law-enforcement community see both these matters differently.
A comment typed to the bottom of one of the photocopied e-mails reads: “I find this extremely funny, considering no other agency in Oxford County is getting the same treatment. Also, only Bethel has a vote coming up.”
The anonymous writer also cites both public and officer safety, arguing that in a nearby domestic situation where Bethel is closer and county might be a half-hour away, “who suffers, the public does.”
“And if a deputy responds alone, why wouldn't you want help from a Bethel officer who may be right down the road.”
Speaking on condition his name not be used, one long-time law-enforcement veteran told The Citizen: “That memo represents a 180-degree flip from what had gone on as routine even with the current OXSO Administration,” especially when it comes to calls for back-up or to handling non-emergency calls in the town's surrounding Bethel.
“Back and forth”
At Monday evening's informational meeting on Bethel's proposed budget for FY '11 (sidebar), former Bethel Police Chief Eric Wight briefly raised the question of out-of-town coverage.
Asked about a recent response in Gilead, BPD Lt. Shane White, said the question of who's in charge “can go back in forth.”
“You can argue that we went out and helped them. They'll argue that they helped us,” White said. “But I'll be the first one to tell you: If I get a call, I'm not going to sit back and listen to it – I'm going. I'll take my lashes later – but that's my job.”
Wight appeared to concur with that philosophy.
“If you've got someone in your house with a gun, or whatever, you want to be sure [a deputy or officer] is going to be there – damn quick.”
And as to Bethel taxpayers baring the costs of such responses, Town Manager Jim Doar said recently: “It sucks being a service-center community, … but they're our neighbors.”