News Alert
UPDATE: Massive Brush Fire Rages In Berkeley,…

Shotgun Incident Elicits Resident Concerns

Local police no longer control information given to inquiring callers.

It seems as though one hand didn’t know what the other was doing when authorities diffused a potentially dangerous situation last week, which led to resident inquiries and confusion between local police and the county.

Three officers

The incident required assistance from the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit, which , settled in the cornfield.

But lack of information led to confusion from dispatchers, according to at least one resident, who was unaware of the severity of the situation.

“When we called, the dispatcher told us police were looking for a missing person,” said Lisa Foster-Clarke, who lives in the area of where the incident took place. “My son and husband actually went outside to see what was going on–we didn’t know there was a man with a gun in the cornfield.”

Foster-Clarke said she has neighbors who moved to the area recently with small children, and feared one of them was lost.

“I asked the dispatcher if there was a reason to be concerned,” she said. “He told me there was no cause for concern, despite how close we actually were to the situation. So I thought they ruled out that it was dangerous.”

Loss of Local Control

What Foster-Clarke didn’t realize, along with many other residents, . When an emergency call is made to 9-1-1, it’s sent to a dispatch station in Morris County, which then notifies the local police department.

Washington Township switched over to this system in September 2011.

When asked if he felt the loss of a local dispatcher hindered communications with residents in a situation like the one in question, police Chief Michael Bailey didn’t hesitate.

“Yes, it does (hinder the communication),” Bailey said. “When we had local dispatchers, those guys knew the area and they’d release information to residents that may be more helpful. They’d give more insight to what’s going on and maybe tell them to call back in an hour or two for an update. But now we need to go by whatever policy the county dispatchers go with.

“The problem is, not a lot of residents actually know they’re calling another town to speak with a dispatcher,” Bailey continued. “Our building is closed by 5:30 p.m. weekdays. There’s no one in the building.”

There are other ways for the public to be notified, such as the Reverse 9-1-1 system, which sends a phone call to registered residents alerting them of a potentially dangerous situation.

But that wasn’t much of an option that night, Bailey said, for a number of reasons.

“We were working with a limited road crew that night,” Bailey said. “All of our on-duty officers were involved in the situation. Their focus was on what was in front of them. Between that and no one being in the building to issue (a Reverse 9-1-1), it wasn’t going to happen.”

Bailey also said his officers had the situation under control, and the incident may not have been as dangerous as it sounded–yet another reason not to issue the alert.

Dispatchers at the county were feeding information back and forth between the local police and New Jersey State Police, Bailey said, in addition to taking calls from residents inquiring about the situation. The dispatch center added a second employee to the incident to handle the volume.

Bailey said he now needs to go back to the county and go over what information was given and received that night, and what steps will be taken going forward as far as disseminating communication to residents.

“I just want guidance, I want to know that my property is secured,” Foster-Clarke said. “I think the police did a fabulous job addressing the needs of that man that night. But if I could have had information to help guide my family’s activities that night–instead of going outside and walking around–I would have felt much better.”

Foster-Clarke said she did not find out what unfolded in the cornfield near her house until reading Long Valley Patch the following day.

“I wasn’t looking for gossip or spread lies by getting information from the dispatcher,” Foster-Clarke said. “But I should have been told there is a potentially dangerous and armed individual in the area. You need to secure your family and property.”

Hattori Hanzo August 23, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Great comment wife, Reality Chuck's problem is part jealousy, and part insecurity. When he encounters your husband or another officer, he is jealous, envious of the man they are and the oath they have taken and continue to uphold everyday. These same things also make him feel insecure, in that he has never and will never dow anything of this nature. Therefore, he feels the need to tear down the police, even though, in this specific case, they did nothing wrong and everything right.
deb knobelman August 23, 2012 at 07:09 PM
at this point, whether it was one person's fault or another's, the main issue is that telling people it was a missing person was a horrible mistake; they may have tried to help find the person, and this could have ended terribly. and the above comment about the accident on bartley is BAD. what if someone had been hurt or having a heart attack???? no help in 45 minutes????
cv August 23, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I do no think police have to share any information with the public if it is an ongoing investigation.
Claire August 23, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Wasn't there another incident that a house in LV almost burnt down a couple of yrs ago because the county 911 sent the call to Long Hill instead of LV? It took many calls to get msg to the right Fire Co. Again, not the WT fault, but the dispatch service. In some areas you need to spend the money on, others you can take the cheap road, this is not one of them. I think the outsourcing of 911 calls should be revisited. ps to Wife: the guys did a great job and I commend them. As a police officer, you never know the situation you're going into, too many crazys out there.
Claire August 23, 2012 at 08:41 PM
One more thing: I do think the neighbors should have been aware of the severity of the situation so a family could secure their house. I am glad innocent bystanders weren't caught in the middle.
Wife August 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I went off on my own little tangent earlier as it is frustrating to listen to and read the assaults on the police dept. As many readers have pointed out, it is ultimately the communication that people are concerned with. The police did a terrific job with the information they were being given. As we chatter in hindsight, I'm sure that the officials and powers that be were already poring over the minutia of the incident before the evening was over. If nothing else I'm sure that we can expect better communication and how information is dispersed to the public.....on a need to know basis.
Jack Mahoffer August 23, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Maybe you can not comprehend this article. The WTPD DOES NOT dispatch for themselves. There IS 24/7/365 911 service, however it is way below the standard that the WTPD is used to. There is a gross misconception that Washington Township Officers man these phones. These officers are only as effective and responsive as the Morris County Dispatch Center allows them to be. We need our own dispatch back - guys who KNOW the town and the town's needs. Know protocol. It's not the WTPD that is ineffective - you should meet some of these guys. You would be impressed.
Jack Mahoffer August 23, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Maybe they can move their " speed trap " off of Jones Lane and man a phone - only if our town council didn't hastily attempt to cut costs and outsource. Now ALL the residents have to accept the drastic drop in service. Cry the township commitee a river Roger.
Claire August 23, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I feel its a shame that the residents in town do not step up and get educated in town issues before there is a problem. The dispatcher was a big issue several yrs ago. Problem is in this town is no one want to say anything. "Oh, I don't want my name or my kid associated ...let someone else do my dirty work" ...... cowards ... thats why the situation is what it is in town and schools. Wake up people NOW THE WEST MORRIS CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL status is a major concern that the residents need to get educated and make decisions about what is best. Voice an opinion or get stomped on
Eileen Stokes August 23, 2012 at 11:41 PM
It is a surprise to me to learn that the police station is closed and unoccupied on weekends, or at least part of the weekend. I am sure however that police are on duty and patrol. That time aside, IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY WITH YOUR RESPONSE FROM THE COUNTY 9ll team, there is always the tried and true method of calling the police directly, just like we used to do. 908-876-3232 is a number I learned by heart within a month of moving here. I have never been disappointed by the response of our own police whether calling about a rabid raccoon, a lost dog in the middle of Schooley's Mountain Road, etc. The number is also loaded in my cell phone.
Hattori Hanzo August 23, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Eileen I hate to disappoint you but I believe that number goes to the county dispatch as well. Feel free to complain to your town council members who made the decision to go to the county under the guise of saving money. I believe, however, that it is not saving any money.
Pai Mei August 23, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Claire, people don't want to find out about the police department, the schools, or any other issues. They want to come on here with their incorrect preconceived notions and ideas and criticize people and departments they know nothing about.
Eileen Stokes August 24, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Hattori, that is something I will check on. It has always been the "non-emergency" number and makes no sense to have it go and clog the county system. It is something we should know if all calls go to the county.
Jersey August 24, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Eileen, I believe Hattori is right after hours. (Side note, awesome user name, Hattori. ;) ) I am a resident in the area where this occurred, and the helicopter was over my home as well. I agree that the cops don't have to share details of an ongoing investigation, but I do think that one takeaway from this situation is that perhaps residents should have been warned to stay inside and lock their doors. Everything turned out fine, thankfully. But had this guy gone nuts and shots were fired into a home with sleeping children, the whole town would be going nuts (for good reason). I fully support our cops and know this is not their fault. I would support getting 24/7 coverage, at least by one person, in the police station to cover for emergency situations. Or perhaps someone could be on call to come in and man the phones when there is an emergency. Worth discussing.
DXJ August 24, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Is it possible the initial call to dispatch indicated a "missing person"? Maybe that's all dispatch knew at that point. If the man is in a corn field surrounded by every cop on duty and a helicopter overhead ... is he a danger to the public?
Resident August 24, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I live in the area as well. I understand that people wish they were better informed, but why on earth when there are helicopters circling and police activity would anyone want to go outside to check it out? Stay inside, don't panic, use common sense and let the police do their job.
Lisa Foster-Clarke August 24, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Haha~I think it must be a guy thing Resident, you'd have to ask my husband (I WAS inside telling him to get in until we knew something or it was resolved).
Resident August 24, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Hi Lisa, that comment wasn't directed at you but to everyone who was talking about going outside to see what was going on or leaving the house in general. (My husband would do the same thing ;-) )
Hookerman August 24, 2012 at 02:51 PM
For a missing person, the authorities often want the public's help. A few years back, a woman was missing in town, and a Honeywell alert was put asking residents to be on the alert for her. A suicidal gunman is a whole different matter. That's why the incorrect reporting is such a serious matter.
Resident August 24, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Maybe I'm missing something, if the authorities needed help, wouldn't they request it? Isn't that what the alerts are for? I agree a person with a gun is scary, but from everything reported it sounds like the only person in danger was the man himself and as another poster pointed out, he had a helicopter and police on him the entire time. For future reporting, do people need to know the specifics or just enough to keep them inside and safe. Would telling people there was a man with a gun in the fields cause a better or worse reaction in people? I don't know the answers, just asking the questions.
Blue Heron August 24, 2012 at 04:53 PM
While this was going on my family did stay inside, lock the doors and kept alert until the helicoper finally flew away. I agree that it was clear that when you see something like this going on, using common sense about your safety is important. I still feel that the dispatcher should have told residents who called to stay indoors and not make them feel like it was just a missing person and that it was no big deal. I realize that they cannot always give out details for a variety of reasons but informing people to stay indoors would have been appropriate in this situation.
Resident August 24, 2012 at 05:09 PM
That sounds completely reasonable to me, I agree.
E Nodrog August 24, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I wonder why everyone was outside and cars were pulled over all over the sides of the road if people were so alarmed. I happen to be driving through that area to drop off a friend and it looked like a parade was about to come through.
Hookerman August 24, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I agree with what you're saying, but when there's a helicopter right outside your house, it's a natural inclination to check it out. If you believe it's simply searching for a missing person, you're not going to think there is a danger with being outdoors. If you know there's a dangerous gunman in the area (and a person who is a danger to himself is certainly a danger to others), then you're going to be much more likely to stay inside.
VOICE OF THE VALLEY August 24, 2012 at 11:26 PM
You all need to attend the next Township meeting and bring back the dispatchers to washington Township
Tracy Tobin August 25, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Please do come to the September 17 Township Committee meeting and voice your concerns about this incident. The Mayor, Police Commissioner and Police Chief will be working on what happened, what worked, what didn't work (resident notification) and changes that can be made in cooperation with the County. I am sure that the Mayor will be happy to discuss this with the residents. Re the Dispatch Center, it was moved to the County after our town lost the shared services revenue from Mendham Twp., Chester Twp., and Chester Boro. Our town could not continue to fund the Dispatch Center (Salaries, benefits, communications equipment & services, computer hardware/software/maintenance) solely from town taxes and staying within the 2% Cap. The decision to close down Local Dispatch and move to the centralized County Dispatch system has been made by roughly 2/3 of the 39 municipalities in Morris County. Hunterdon and Warren Counties also operate County Dispatch systems. A customized system for a specific municipality will often have features that a "generic" sytem cannot match, but that comes at a cost that W.T. cannot afford. The Committee has to work with the County to resolve problem areas and arrive at a set of procedures that will keep PD, Emergency Services volunteers and residents informed and safe. Not a simple requirement but certainly one that has to be met. I am sure that I can count on several regular "bloggers" to disagree with me. See you in Sept. if not before.
Sam Slobo August 25, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Tracy - That is nothing but political rhetoric. The fact of the matter is the move to outsource our dispatching has not saved the town a dime. It displaced loyal & dependable employees who CARED about WT - who KNEW WT - who had knowledge of the developments and the troubled areas, which made our police response that much more effective. Maybe 2/3 of the municipalities have gone to the County Dispatch, but that does not mean it works for OUR township. Have a conversation with ANY of our officers and they will give you a LIST of potentially bad situations they were put in as a result of the sub-par quality of communication afforded by the new system. For example : getting dispatched to wrong addresses, getting dispatched to calls that are described as something completely different than the call they actually arrive at & being dispatched to calls that are not EVEN HAPPENING IN WT !! Put yourself in the officers' shoes the next time you all count your pennies at the next meeting ( where you will ignore the public anyway - thats why there is no attendance ).
Chingones Jefferson August 25, 2012 at 10:54 AM
I love how that is the standard answer, go to the next meeting, go to the next meeting. I attended a meeting one time about the building of low income housing on East Ave and the town council would not let anyone speak unless they wanted to ask a question or make a comment about what the housing would look like. The decision had already been made by the town, despite outspoken opposition. People came there with legitimate arguments and concerns and were told they could not address them. Finally, when the aesthetics portion of the meeting was over and attendees thought they were going to get a chance to air their concerns about low income housing and all the great people and things it brings, however this was not the case. And the best part, at the beginning of the meeting, then Committeeman Popper and Ken Short, got up and excused themselves so no WT or Mt. Olive residents could ask them any direct questions.
Claire August 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Maybe the committee should inquire with some of the other towns who went over to the county dispatcher if they are unhappy with the service too?
Lisa Foster-Clarke August 25, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Seems it's all been said and heard, and while the follow-up continues, let's all pause and celebrate our community at the fireworks festival tonight!


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