Vernon police complete top-shelf dispatch center

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Jan. 16, 2014
Vernon Police Chief James Kenny and Mayor Dan Champagne cut the ribbon (actually police tape) at the Vernon Police Department's new, state-of-the-art dispatch center on Jan. 14. Photos by Steve Smith.
Vernon Police Chief James Kenny and Mayor Dan Champagne cut the ribbon (actually police tape) at the Vernon Police Department's new, state-of-the-art dispatch center on Jan. 14. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Vernon Police Department unveiled its new $700,000 dispatch center at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 14. The center was renovated to include a new radio console, furniture and flooring, and was installed by Marcus Communications of Manchester.

Chief James Kenny said the winter storms in 2010 and 2011 were the real impetus to upgrade the system from "antiquated, analog" equipment that was essentially rendered useless during the winter storms. "During the storm, we basically lost our radio system," Kenny said. "We had a much-degraded system here that was completely inadequate for public safety."

Kenny said the department spoke with its past vendor, and had received a quote that was "considerably higher" than what Marcus came up. The aim was to obtain a fully-up-to-date system, technologically, that complies with new law-enforcement standard, known as "P-25."

"We've been looking to develop a system that is going to last 20 years," Kenny said. "That standard is going to have to be met by radio systems in the near future. Basically, it compresses the bandwidth to allow more uses."

"It makes more use of the band," said Todd Stacy, project manager from Marcus. "It's the digital standard moving forward, as everybody moves from analog to digital."

About 25 percent of departments in Connecticut have upgraded to digital. Stacy said Marcus has installed similar consoles in South Windsor and Meriden. The South Windsor system can operate as a backup to Vernon's (and vice versa), as can a console set up at Marcus's location in Manchester.

"The big thing was survivability. If something happened in this building," Kenny said, "we'd be able to utilize similar equipment at a different PD, or even at Marcus's main headquarters. We could literally run this department, radio-wise, from an off-site location."

Stacy said that Vernon would simply have to send personnel to South Windsor, which has the same equipment, and load in some software, and that department would function just like Vernon's.

The new system also utilizes two communications transmitters, both of which have generator back-ups for power. The previous system had nine, most of which were rendered useless during the winter storms.

The "points of failure" of the old system were carefully avoided. "We hired a contractor to come into our dispatch center and re-wire our system so it has dedicated power. We won't get brown-outs anymore."

The dispatchers themselves aided in the design of the new center, which includes ergonomically-designed furniture and desks. "They worked on the outlay of the screen, and had to vote on the colors," Kenny said. "They literally have to spend their whole shift in there, so it's designed to help them be more efficient at their jobs."

Tracy said the console is made by Avtec, Inc. – a company based in South Carolina which manufactures in North Carolina. "It's an all-IP based console," he said. "It's the cutting edge of what the current standard is, and it's the upcoming public safety console."

Kenny said the process has been three years long, but that helped to stretch out the cost which was minimal to Vernon taxpayers. The initial phase of the project was funded with $300,000 from a federal COPS grant secured by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2), and a total of $150,000 in monies from Connecticut's Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) which covered the infrastructure and towers. Another $250,000 LoCIP grant paid for the dispatch room at Vernon PD.

Kenny said some drug asset forfeiture money was also used to cover some of the overages. "We can thank some of our local drug dealers for helping us to improve the efficiency of our operation," Kenny said.

Dispatchers had been working out of the community room during construction, but were able to move into their new home in late December.

"We've got something we think the taxpayers can be proud of," Kenny said, adding that the project came in "on time, and under budget. The idea was to get it right the first time, and I think we did that."

"It's very impressive," said Mayor Dan Champagne, a former Vernon police officer.

Town Administrator John Ward said the Town Council should be thanked for its efforts in securing the LoCIP money.

"I'd like to thank both the police department and the information technology department for spearheading the whole project," Ward said.

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