BELVIDERE, N.J. – The Warren County Board of Commissioners' monthly meeting Wednesday was a night of recognition for the county's 911 dispatch operators and employees of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Washington borough.
The board proclaimed April as "Sexual Assault Awareness Month" and this week as "National Public Safety Telecommunications Week," while recognizing the lifesaving efforts of staff at both the crisis and call centers.
The DASACC, whose mission is "to help, serve, and advocate for those impacted by interpersonal violence, to be proactive regarding its prevention, and to create positive change," provided services including shelter, individual and group counseling, legal advocacy and case management to more than 100 people impacted by sexual violence last year, the board stated.
The board also noted the FBI recognizes sexual assault as the second most violent crime behind murder and as the most underreported criminal act. Commissioners said sexual assault is a national health crisis affecting not only the victims but their families, friends and communities at large.
"It's very prevalent and happens all the time," said Deputy Director Commissioner Jason Sarnoski about sexual assault incidents.
Commissioner Director James Kern III recognized the benefits of the center's efforts to the entire county community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which due to lockdowns and quarantining, led to a rise in sex assault numbers.
DASACC Executive Director Jill Zinckgraf accepted the proclamation on behalf of the agency and said, "Through great adversity comes great opportunity."
The board also recognized the telecommunications operators at the Warren County 911 Communications Center for serving in a first-responder capacity.
Commissioners said the dispatchers are the initial and crucial link between citizens needing assistance and other emergency personnel, as they provide accurate locations, directions, and other information critical for emergency response.
The commissioners noted the dispatchers processed more than 221,000 phone calls and 125,000 computer-aided dispatch incidents during the pandemic, under minimal staffing conditions.
"We understand how crucial it would be if the dispatchers were to get sick," Kern said. "You are the backbone, the lifeblood of the county."
Telecommunicators Nicole Hann, Dirk Higgins, Amanda Lozowski, and Mary Schutts were singled out in recognition of their exemplary efforts, diligence and professionalism.