Since 2004, the state of New Jersey has collected 1.37 billion dollars in 911 fees, meant for the implementation of a new 911 system that would be more advanced and save lives according to NJ Advanced Media. However, this analysis published on Oct. 14 found that only about 15 percent of the funds have been used to pay for the system they are intended for.
The new system, called NextGen 911, would be an upgrade on the current 911 system, using updated technology and giving dispatchers and first responders more information and access. People would be able to show dispatchers text, photo, and video; information could be shared with first responders in real-time. Information could also be run through databases.
Stephen Chapman, Assistant Professor of Political Science considers the misuse of funds as a strategic political move. He said, “I think this situation is a clear example of when strategic actors behave in a manner that benefits their interests. The governors took from the tax fund because they knew balancing the budget would benefit their public approval and reelection hopes much more than 911 technology would.”
“This does happen quite often; Governor Christie is known for taking from one program to pay for another, but he is surely not the only state executive to engage in this activity. However, this situation normally happens in policy areas where most people are not paying attention.” Chapman added.
According to an article by NJ.com published on, there would also be improvements in terms of making sure that calls are routed to the proper dispatch centers. Location data from cell phones, currently unreliable, would be improved. The web-based system would allow people to use the same kind of messaging, multimedia sharing, and geolocation that most people use on a daily basis. The system is based around speed and efficiency, as to best save lives.
“I am not real familiar with NextGen 911 but it does present interesting possibilities to improve emergency response to calls,” said William McElrath, Chief of Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD). “If it is all that is advertised, it would certainly enhance police response and cut down on errors within the system. I think that, like most older systems, the current 911 system could be improved but the question will always arise – ‘Where is the money coming from?’”
McElrath continued, “I think it is important for law enforcement to try and utilize current technology to improve their service to the public.”
The current 911 system has roughly stayed the same for the last 40 years, with some improvements including except a recent ability to text emergencies. Officials have tried to modify it to accommodate modern technology, such as cell phones, but the system has reached its limit and is now more of a burden than ever before, the NJ.com article said.
“I think it’s 100 percent definitely something that needs to be worked on,” said Sean Murphy, a junior homeland security student. “I interned with AT&T and something we were interested in patenting was an easier way for dispatchers to get the GPS location for incoming calls. A system that could do that would be a huge benefit.”
The tax was put on monthly phone bills beginning in 2004. Since then 1.37 billion dollars in tax money has been collected and routed to Trenton, but only about $211 million dollars has made its way towards the system. From 2005 to 2008, about $42 million dollars was invested in the system; from then investment has trickled to a halt. In 2014, $121 million was collected for the system upgrade. Only $9,141 went towards the system – just barely 0.007 percent of the funds collected.
According to the analysis, the money has been used to help pay for the Department of Law and Public Safety, the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, the Office of Homeland Security, rural policing, urban search and rescue, the National Guard, and the general operating budget of the New Jersey State Police. The fund has also been used to balance the budget of the state.
According to Andrew Pratt in the article, a spokesman for the Office of Information Technology, a part of the state Treasury Department, the detailed levels of spending cannot be provided, and they are not shown in the released budgets.
“The 911 fee has paid for hundreds of millions of dollars of New Jersey public safety needs since the fee’s inception in 2004,” Pratt said. “Diverting resources to enable greater local spending would reduce funding for programs that benefit every state citizen.”
The existing 911 system is already considered the state’s most important public safety system. According to a report given to Congress by the Federal Communication Commission, implementing the system nationwide would save more than 10,000 lives annually. This would also provide a benefit of $92 billion.
Since the analysis was published, there has been no comment from the governor’s office or the state attorney general. The state’s head of information technology, David Weinstein, said that it was a “huge priority” but the manner of paying for it was “still under consideration”.
In August 2016, the New Jersey Association of Counties met with Governor Chris Christie’s office, urging that the money be put toward the 911 system to ease the burden on local taxpayers.
Currently, there is a bill pending in the state Assembly that would require the implementation of portions of NextGen 911, specifically the multimedia communications features. However, the legislation calls for the increasing of the existing 911 fee and has gone nowhere.
For the first four years of the tax’s existence, New Jersey was a national leader, putting in record amounts of money into the system and giving tens of millions of dollars in grants to county and local 911 offices, creating a reliable funding stream to those who handle the bulk of emergency calls.
In 2009, everything changed as annual contributions to the 911 system were cut by more than half, and it is alleged that county and local offices have not seen a dime from the fund in more than seven years. Only over the course of 2013 and 2014 did the fund receive any money from the state.
According to Chapman major changes would need to be implemented to solve this dilemma. He said, “In order to avoid any of these situations, it would take careful design of legislation and subsequent appropriation. Legislation would have to be designed that would impose a penalty for officials taking the money from one fund and spending it elsewhere. Creating this institutional barrier would be the only way to obviate such an occurrence.”
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