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Mayor Fife's Plan: Harrison to Switch to Bergen County Dispatchers

Nov 14, 2023
Police Dispatcher

Revisiting Tradition and Technology: The Outsourcing of Harrison's 911 Dispatch

The decision to outsource Harrison's 911 police dispatching service to Bergen County, as reported by on November 13, 2023, has sparked a critical reevaluation of the town's priorities and its commitment to local public safety infrastructure.

The Legacy of Mayor Frank E. Rodgers

The late Mayor Frank E. Rodgers, a visionary in integrating technology with law enforcement, pioneered the use of one of the nation's first police radio dispatch systems in Harrison NJ. His insight gained from his service during WWII, recognized the pivotal role of technology in decisive victories, was instrumental in this advancement. The system, sourced from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) headquartered in Harrison, marked a significant leap in local policing efficiency and effectiveness. Rodgers' philosophy underscored the value of local resources and expertise in enhancing community safety.

The Current Shift in Priorities

Fast forward to 2023, and we observe a contrasting approach under the administration of Mayor James Fife. Despite the town's increased revenue stream from the transformation of its industrial zones into residential communities – a project initiated by the late Mayor Raymond McDonough, Councilman Peter Higgins, and former Councilman Anselmo Millan – there is an drastic move to eliminate local emergency dispatch services.

The recent approvals for substantial expenditures on video cameras and a new Motorola radio system for the police department highlight a perplexing contradiction. While these investments in technology are commendable, the decision to outsource a critical component of emergency response – the 911 dispatch service – to Bergen County raises questions about why Mayor James Fife is gutting the local dispatch services.

The Underlying Concerns

Mayor Fife cites "mounting repair costs" and "personnel challenges" as justifications for the outsourcing. However, this decision seems at odds with the town's financial health, buoyed by significant Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from developers. The lack of investment in training or retaining local dispatchers is a departure from the community-centric vision of the late Mayor Frank E. Rodgers.

The outsourcing move, estimated to cost nearly $1 million annually, also sparks concerns about the efficacy of non-local dispatchers handling Harrison's emergency calls. The nuanced understanding of local geography and community dynamics that local dispatchers possess is invaluable, especially in emergency situations.

The Question of Transparency and Fairness

A review of the numerous Harrison Mayor & Council meetings does not have a Resolution to “Enter Into A Contract with Bergen County for Dispatch Services”.  The Resolution was also not on the Tuesday, November 14, 2023’s Agenda. 

Mayor Fife is in the habit of helping out certain developers including orchestrating back-to-back Harrison Redevelopment Meetings followed by a Mayor & Council meeting to ensure that a developer who has gotten numerous extensions on his Redevelopment privileges in the Town of Harrison gets additional generous extensions that are further extended.  Other Developers comply with their Redevelopment Agreements and complete their projects as scheduled.  Yet, Mayor Fife can’t meet “mounting repair costs” and “personnel challenges” from local dispatchers. Each year brings with it the fruit (PILOTS) of the tree planted by the late Mayor Raymond J. McDonough's vision of redeveloping the southern industrial zone into a residential zone.

The Path Not Taken

Reflecting on Mayor Rodgers' legacy, one can argue that more could be done to address the "personnel challenges" in-house. With sufficient training, progressive disciplinary systems, and community involvement, Harrison could potentially nurture a competent and dedicated team of local dispatchers. The outsourcing decision not only overlooks these alternatives but also seems to undermine the sense of community involvement and ownership in public safety.

While technological upgrades and fiscal prudence are essential, they should not come at the cost of localizing critical services like 911 dispatching. The decision by Mayor Fife's administration is a step away from the community-focused approach of his predecessors. It leaves one to ponder: What would Mayor Rodgers have said about this departure from a tradition that once set Harrison apart in integrating technology with local community service?

Also Read: Harrison Fire Department A Long Way From Newark Takeover

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