Police hiring 911 call intakersWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Twenty-one communications positions and six records positions were open and are now being filled at the Toledo Police Department. But the reason for the high number of vacancies is disputed.
Sgt. Joe Heffernan, public information officer for the Toledo Police Department (TPD), said the department has not been able to fill vacant positions and is trying to restore TPD’s numbers to where they were in 2006 before the recession hit.
“We’ve got to the point now where we need to hire people back,” he said, adding that the 2013 budget provided funds for this purpose.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, chair of Council’s Public Safety, Law & Criminal Justice committee, said the communications vacancies could be attributed to, “by all appearances, a very hostile environment, solely as a result of top police division leadership responsible for their operations.” Those in the communications positions are responsible for answering and dispatching 911 calls.
He also said the records position vacancies are a result of layoffs, retirements and transfers, adding that not having these positions filled makes reporting crime data to the FBI more difficult.
Collins said he requested the exit interviews of the communications employees who have left in the past year three weeks ago, but he has not received them yet.
“My strong suspicions are that the conditions of employment, as it relates to the supervision from the police department, are the major reason for the inability to retain employees in that very important public safety function,” he said. “My reason for being concerned with that particular area is because officer safety can be directly compromised when our call takers and dispatchers are working under the conditions that currently exist.”
Heffernan said he did not specifically know what situation Collins was referring to and declined to comment on specific reasons personnel gave for leaving.
He also said calling the communications department a “hostile work environment” was a “very general statement.”
Collins pointed to a resignation letter from a communications employee dated Nov. 21, 2012. In the letter sent to several city officials, the former employee said he had spoken to human resources, affirmative action and union representatives about “the harassment” at the communications center.
“I have suffered documented health issues from the stress and emotional abuse over this harassment and retaliation,” the letter read.
“Although I am able to maintain the ability to perform my job, the working environment continues to be a concern.”
Heffernan said he had not heard of that specific case with the letter.
Councilman George Sarantou, also a member of the public safety committee, said the communications department is “absolutely critical” to public safety and having enough workers to handle calls improves response time.
“Quite frankly, that is a difficult job and a very stressful job so we tend to have an inordinate amount of people [leaving the positions],” he said.
Heffernan said employee assistance programs are in place and, “We try to be in tune with our employees and any type of signs that the employee is emotionally in trouble.”
The communications and records divisions have been functioning through a rotating schedule system, with staffers doing overtime when needed, Heffernan said. There are currently 24 records clerks, 11 call takers and 36 dispatchers.
Those hired into the communications division start off as 911 call intakers, who record the most crucial information. After a year, the call intakers can be promoted to dispatchers, who communicate with the police officers. The records department has several functions, including data input and taking and keeping records.
“Our mission is to protect and serve. If someone’s kicking in your backdoor and breaking in your house and you’re calling 911, our primary mission is there’s someone to answer that 911 call quickly and someone to dispatch that police crew,” Heffernan said. “The service part of it is where we take cuts first.”
This could mean cutting nonpriority positions, community services and scaling back detectives in favor of more personnel on the streets, he said.
Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Personnel Shirley Green said filling these positions is in progress and that the city is drawing from an eligibility list it has on file.
Successful applicants need to have a high school diploma or GED, two years of experience in customer service or problem-solving and be able to pass a typing test and background check. Those with public safety experience are preferred. After the hiring process, the new hires must also pass the training process, Green said.
The base salary for the new hires is $30,499 and can go up to $40,664.