Target 11 investigates dispatching dead end

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A decade ago it was touted as an ambitious project to revolutionize state police dispatching. The goal was to put more troopers on the road, and make the process more efficient, but now 10 years later, the entire $130 million project has hit a dead end.

State police built four state-of-the-art dispatching centers, including the one in Greensburg at a costs to taxpayers of $32 million. Police said at the time that consolidation dispatching from 81 locations down to five would put 173 troopers back on the road.

Former Democratic state Sen. Allen Kukovich represented Westmoreland County. He recalled the push by State Police and Gov. Tom Ridge.

"Both were saying this was the greatest leap forward since state police went from horses to cars," Kukovich told Target 11.

"So how can anyone not support that?" Earle asked.

"That's right. This is a great thing. But they needed more resources to phase this in. It wasn't all going to get done at one time," Kukovich said.

Only two of the centers, one in Harrisburg and the other in Norristown, ever became operational. One in Pittston and the one in Greensburg were never occupied. And another center planned for Meadville was never built.

Now faced with extraordinary budget cuts, state police are pulling the plug on the entire plan.

"As you look at this from your perspective, is this a colossal failure of government?" asked Earle.

"Well it's certainly hard to explain. When you look at it on paper, it looks pretty good. You are going to take 81 dispatch centers and reduce it to five," said Republican state Rep. Tim Krieger of Greensburg, who took office years after the plan had passed the legislature.

"It appears to me no one ever factored in the costs of operation, particularly 24-7 operation. It wasn't properly vetted in the first place, but the biggest problem I have with it, and it's not just the economics, which are bad enough, but if you talk to the state troopers, the system they don't think every worked, ever could work," said Krieger.

And Krieger is right. Troopers years ago raised several concerns, among them that dispatchers would be working in unfamiliar areas.
Still, state police pushed on with the plan, until now.

State Police say it would take even more troopers off the road and costs more to operate.

We wanted to see what the governor thought about disbanding the dispatching centers.

"State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan is looking to save dollars and provide the maximum amount of public protecting that we possibly can," said Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who blamed the cut on the budget.

"A lot of times, it's easier to do new and creative things when revenues are good, and that was the case then," said Kukovich.

"What this illustrates to me is that government is certainly good at spending other people's money, and they don't do it very well. It was obviously a mistake in retrospect, and unfortunately we need to find the other places this is happening because in government we know it happens more often than it should," said Krieger.

The two centers that were up and running will be shut down. Perhaps the only saving grace for taxpayers is that state police say they will find alternative uses for the buildings.

In fact the state police crime lab has already taken over the Greensburg dispatching center.