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Sue Epstein/The Star-Ledger 
December 03, 2013 at 4:51 PM, updated December 03, 2013 at 4:52 PM

When Dunellen, NJ signed an agreement to have radio dispatch and communications for emergency personnel handled by Piscataway, borough officials believed they were upgrading their system that had been handled by Rutgers University’s Police Department.

But, members of the borough’s fire department and members of Dunellen PBA Local 146, which represents borough police officers, say the current system, in place since mid-2012, is a safety hazard and the PBA charges it creates an unsafe workplace, therefore violates the law.

In an August letter to Dunellen Police Chief Jeffrey Nelson, the PBA leadership complained that the radios continually malfunction and there are “dead zones” within the borough where officers can’t make or receive calls from headquarters or each other.

“It is self-evident that officer and public safety is jeopardized when an officers is unable to communicate with other officers and/or headquarters,” the letter, written by the PBA’s attorney, James Mets, said. “When an officer is confronted with a “dead zone,” he cannot call for backup, emergency medical personnel, or assistance of any manner.”

The letter said the PBA has made “numerous complaints” to the borough regarding the issue, but “the borough has refused to take action to correct this problem.”

The PBA warns in the letter that the union “will be compelled to take all necessary and legitimate steps to protect the health and safety of the (PBA) members.”

Mets said the union has filed a grievance against the police department with the borough.

Nelson declined to comment on the letter, but referred all calls to the borough attorney, John Bruder, who said Dunellen officials are aware of the problems and are working with Piscataway to fix them.

Bruder said the borough can’t solve the issues with the radio system itself because, “it isn’t ours.”

“Borough representatives have continually tried to get the problems resolved,” he said. “We’re confident they will be resolved sooner rather than later. I have also reached out to the township attorney in Piscataway to discuss this.”

Bruder said the borough decided to go with Piscataway for its emergency radio system at the behest of the police department after they asked for a change. He said members of the police and fire department did research on the radio equipment and came to the governing body, “requesting the town purchase these radios.”

But PBA leaders and Jonathan Scott, the borough’s fire chief, denied they ever recommended the Motorola system now in use.

“We recommended that the borough go with the Middlesex County radio system and we definitely did not recommend the Motorola radios,” Scott said.

He said when the department got the radios, “we did a field test and we found the dead zones.”

“Piscataway handles dispatching for the fire department, but we kept our old radio system and equipment for all other communications,” he said.

The borough mandated that police and rescue personnel use the Piscataway system, according to the PBA.

Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler said the Dunellen emergency personnel signed off on the system after testing it several years ago so “they only have themselves to blame,” for the problems.

“Our agreement only calls for providing dispatch,” Wahler said, adding they (Dunellen officials) need expensive additional equipment to make everything work right. “They have to pony up some bucks,” he said.