The Jersey City Council rejected a resolution to evaluate issues and present possible solutions regarding the city’s 911 dispatch at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“In 2015, the same problem arose with prioritization and again in 2018,” Alexandra Fajardo, who works in the dispatch center, said during the public portion of the meeting.
She alleged a conflict of interest between Public Safety Director James Shea and Adam Safir, of IXP Corp. – a Princeton firm – that would do the study along with SHI International Corp., of Somerset. The resolution would have approved a $213,085.11 contract.
Safir is the son of former NYPD Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who led the search to hire Shea in Jersey City back in 2013.
Fajardo also said the center is short staffed, doesn’t have their union contracts recognized, and that she personally was passed over for a promotion and raise even after it was scheduled.
“I received the runaround. I was finally told it was on [Police] Director [Tawana] Moody’s desk, ready to be signed, and it never was,” Fajardo said.
She concluded that despite Shea’s testimony during Monday’s caucus, police and fire dispatchers talk.
“Training with new systems falls on deaf ears,” Jonathan Davis, another dispatcher for the city, said.
He added that many applicants fail background checks and balk at the low pay of $20 an hour. In addition, their training sessions are widely viewed as inadequate.
“15 minutes in, the guy left because we asked too many questions,” Davis said of a recent training session that went off the rails.
Jersey City Public Employees Local 245 President Santo DellaMonica expressed disbelief that the city was trying to privatize the police communications and parks, while they still hadn’t approved a new contract for crossing guards after five months.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon asked if the administration had any updated on that agreement, which had come up at a recent caucus.
“Give us another two weeks,” Business Administrator John Metro said, noting the deal would adopt state standards for salaries and benefits.
With that in mind, the issue at hand regarding 911 dispatch was far from over.
“These employees work 365 days a year. They have worked holidays rather than spend time with their children on Christmas morning,” Paul Tamburelli, who identified himself as the chief communications officer at the dispatch center, said.
Tamburelli said while many come to work eight hours, they often are required to work 16 and 20 hours in emergencies, which of course are common in their business.
He also pointed out that they sometimes deal with suicidal people on the phone who end up killing themselves while on the line.
“Our dispatchers have dealt with severely injured firefights and police officers. The director of public safety wants them all of out their jobs to privatize the police communicators centers. These employees are not to blame. The real culprit is the management,” also pointing there were only two 911 operators two weekends ago.
Tamburelli also went on to claim that the city has deliberately not hired people to diminish the quality of the services and make an argument for privatization.
During the vote, the majority of the council appeared sympathetic to what they heard from the public safety employees.
“I did visit the dispatch center. It is a tough job. We thank you for the job. A lot of people do not want to do that job. We do need to figure out the issues there,” Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said before voting no.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said she didn’t support privatization, but felt that the analysis could remedy some of the problems they heard about.
“We are responsible for making sure we are getting to the bottom of these issues. I do think it merits study. I am not in favor of privatizing this system. I think having a different set of eyes could help. It might justify what you guys are saying. We really are here for you,” she said before voting yes.
Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, a retired police detective, said the radio room is 40 people short and that police officers are regularly used to cross streets.
“I worked for the Jersey City Police Department for 36 years. I have never seen these conditions. The person in charge of these three units does not know anything about them,” he exclaimed before he voted no.
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, who questioned the cost of the contract at caucus, noted that IXP did reports in both 2015 and 2018, but none of those recommendations have been implemented yet.
“They hear horrific calls every day. I feel like they’re being set up for failure. I sat in their chair for an hour and my legs went numb, hand to God. I feel like we’re running an Amazon warehouse,” he asserted, also criticizing Shea’s handling of the crossing guards and parking authority before voting no.
“We have to do a better job as a city responding to 911 emergency calls. It starts from the top down. They have a clear financial goal in mind,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon said before casting a vote against the resolution.
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore said it was up to the municipal government to fix the problem, not a third party contractor before saying no.
Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise said she the analysis was not supposed to include personnel, but like Prinz-Arey, thought a new set of eyes to analyze their shortcomings could reap benefits.
“I do understand the concern of privatization. I do believe you should have the best services and technology,” DeGise explained, asking if the social and emotional health of the dispatchers could be evaluated before voting yes.
“I don’t see why we are paying money to know the problem. If you pay the staff right, they will work,” Council President Joyce Watterman concluded before voting against the measure.
Ultimately, the contract was voted down 2-6, with Mira Prinz-Arey and DeGise voting yes. Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera was absent.