Essex Police to start answering nonemergency calls for Williston

Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 6:06 PM EDT
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The town of Williston will now contract with Essex Police to help with nonemergency dispatching calls. Essex will answer 46 hours a week during the slowest hours, such as overnights, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

For many years, Vermont State Police fielded those nonemergency calls for Williston but a significant staffing crisis has pushed Williston to turn to Essex.

“They’ve done a great job. We understand operational changes are occurring, depending what VSP can offer, we made a decision here we want to maintain a level of service we are currently providing, especially with that nonemergency line to make sure that the calls are answered 24/7,” Williston Town Manager Erik Wells said.

Wells says the public will notice no disruption or change in service including 911. All calls will still be answered.

Williston will be working with Essex through at least September. But in the long term, they are focused on the Chittenden County Public Safety Authority which is in the works now to create a regional call dispatch area.

“I think it’s really looking at a way to provide emergency services working together with member towns nearby and it’s certainly a goal the county has had for a long time and we are in a good position to be moving forward with it,” Wells said.

This is a move the state has been looking at for decades. Wells, who is also the treasurer for the upcoming Public Safety Authority in Chittenden County says it will add dispatch capacity, allow dispatchers to better know the area they’re serving, improve mutual aid and improve response times.

Capt. Lance Burnham, the emergency communications commander for the Vermont State Police, agrees.

“Every study that has been done for the past 50 years that has been presented to the state police, Legislature, what have you, they have all recommended regionalized dispatch centers,” Burnham said.

State police are working to hire more dispatchers. They have 19 openings out of 64 which has put a real strain on the current dispatchers.

“They previously had taken on so many agencies that we can’t keep up with the workload that’s out there and once we start losing employees, that workload doesn’t change. So those fewer employees have to work more and more hours,” Burnham said.

The regionalized dispatch centers are still a ways from being operational. Chittenden County hopes to have an executive director by this fall and plan from there.

Officials say citizens will not notice any impact on calls to first responders.

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