Bethlehem's 911 center may fall victim to city budget crunch

Posted: 7:00 PM EST Nov 29, 2012   Updated: 6:58 PM EST Nov 30, 2012

The Bethlehem Police Department's 911 center handles 50,000 emergency calls each year.

"Persons with chest pain to multiple vehicle accidents to fires," said Capt. Robert Haffner, Bethlehem Police Dept.

But due to a budget crunch, talk around city council is emergency calls may be diverted and handled instead by Northampton County's 911 operations center.

"Lot more work to try and have done the same way, and I don't believe it would be as efficiently done as it is now," said Commissioner Jason Schiffer.

Bethlehem and Allentown are the only two cities in the state that operate their own 911 call center. Other agencies, like Colonial Regional police, rely on the county-run center.

"The services we get now are fine and working," said Chief Roy Seiple.

Bethlehem officials said county operators don't have the city's up-to-the-minute technology like city security cameras, which are monitored around the clock and can be used in conjunction with emergency calls.

"Been able to follow suspects and guide police right into and arrest robbery suspects," Schiffer said.

Council said new equipment and upgrades are getting too expensive.

Mayor John Callahan said he is willing to raise taxes to keep the center going, at least for now.

"Over time, I think, will force conversation between the county, city and taxpayer as to what the long term solution is here," Callahan said.

Members of city council we spoke with agreed, saying talk of closing Bethlehem's 911 center is premature, and the cost to public safety has to be carefully studied.

If you ask Bethlehem police, they already have their answer.

"Would compromise officer safety in my opinion to some degree. Yes," said Haffner.