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Lockport police, fire departments hold out on teamwork with county

The City of Lockport remains reluctant to accept free police and fire radios from Niagara County, and even more reluctant to consider letting the county dispatch its police and fire calls.

"The ball is in Lockport and Niagara Falls' court," Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Thomas Beatty said Friday.

Sheriff James R. Voutour has said he doesn't expect Niagara Falls to close the new dispatch center it just built in its new public safety building, but Lockport's situation is different.

The Lockport Common Council passed a package of borrowing authorizations Wednesday, including $150,000 for new police dispatching and 911 equipment.

But it isn't committed to actually making those purchases, Mayor Michael W. Tucker explained.

The county, which expects to begin construction of a new $10 million emergency radio system later this year, has offered to provide new portable radios to every police officer and firefighter in the county.

The catch for Lockport is that its current model of portable radio costs $449 each. The county's new dual-band radios cost $4,100 each.

Tucker warned the Council, "The Council should budget replacement costs. That's $440,000. If they want to give us free equipment, I guess we'll take it, but nothing is free."

Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert told the aldermen, "Should you not take this equipment, we'll have to buy something to communicate with the county, but the county isn't throwing their [old] equipment away. They'll still be able to talk to us."

Lockport's radios use the very high frequency, or VHF, band. The county uses that now, but its new system will involve a switch to the ultra-high frequency, or UHF, band for typical daily use.

Voutour has long sought to take over dispatching duties for every police and fire agency in the county. North Tonawanda has agreed, moving its police dispatching to the county as of July 1, but Lockport and Niagara Falls are resistant.

"We aren't talking central dispatching yet," Eggert said in an interview. "There's a resistance at the county to let everybody going into this central dispatching have an equal voice. The issue is, it has to be done as a group effort so if there's a problem, we can solve it as a group."

"I was at that meeting [last week]," Beatty said. "I don't remember them bringing up any kind of governance board."

But he added, "In no way is the county opposed to some kind of users' group."

Eggert said, "Right now, we're not a stakeholder; we're a customer."

Beatty said, "The system is going to be built with them in mind. If it's just a question of taking end-user equipment, they have time to do that."