As reported bynj.com, with a 4-0 vote, Lawrence became the first town in New Jersey to privatize its 911 police dispatching services, a move township officials said would save up to $1.1 million over five years and enhance public safety. The decision was fiercely opposed by current dispatchers and some residents who said not enough is known about the pay, benefits, and training that Cranbury-based iXP Corp., the winning bidder, would offer the dispatchers it hires.
Council members said they acted with public safety in mind. Only five dispatching jobs are filled out of nine positions, and police are routinely pulled off the job to help out. “Our population has gone up and our police have not gone up with that growth. We’ve had to do more with less,” Councilman Michael Powers said. “It’s not an easy decision or a decision I’m happy about.”
iXP Corp. won a two-year contract paying $719,400 a year to run the police department’s emergency dispatching service. The Council’s decision came after last-minute talks with the dispatchers’ union, who offered to renegotiate their contract with Lawrence in order to compete with iXP’s bid. “It’s been a really, really tough few months-I just ask you to please give it thought,” dispatcher and union vice president Susan Handelman said. “None of us want to leave. We’re all happy-we get along so well with each other.” She also said a vote for iXP would be only a short-term gain for the township.
Overall, iXP’s bid was about $1.1 million cheaper over five years when including costs such as having police officers fill in when dispatchers are absent, but without those costs it was cheaper by a slim margin to keep the dispatchers in-house.
Officials from iXP have said their recruiting and training practices produce reliable employees. Workers undergo background checks as well as hundreds of hours of training and ride-alongs with police. In their first year, those hired by iXP would earn the equivalent of the dispatchers salaries currently paid by Lawrence, through a combination of iXP’s starting salary and a sign-on bonus. Employees would also be eligible for quarterly and performance-based bonuses of $700 to more than $3,000 a year.
Lawrence is not the first community in the area to explore privatization of emergency communications. Officials in Princeton considered the idea last year but dropped it due to time constraints and officials’ heavy workload ahead of the January 1 consolidation of the two former Princetons.