Overworked and understaffed: St. Joseph County dispatchers asking for more dispatchers
The dispatchers are set to hold a rally in front of the County City Building in downtown South Bend on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Mike Clayton, a county dispatcher said he hopes this rally will open the eyes of elected officials.
"You know this is not right, you have experienced dispatchers that are talking about leaving and there's no recourse," Clayton said.
He said the main concerns county dispatchers have are that they are working too many overtime hours and do not have enough breaks throughout the day. Clayton said since the start of the year dispatchers have logged over 10,000 overtime hours.
"These dispatchers need a break and that break is going to come from these 14 people that we're hoping we can get on this floor and get trained up," he said.
Clayton said staffing has been a problem even before the South Bend and Mishawaka dispatch offices merged into one consolidated unit. He said they did not have the amount of dispatchers they needed even before they merged and now they are asking for 14 new dispatchers to lessen the load.
With 262,000 people in St. Joseph County, according to Clayton, the county dispatch center only has two call takers, who are on the front lines for 911 calls.
"You have dispatchers who are responsible for first responders and answering their traffic now split between a telephone and a radio channel," said Clayton.
Clayton also said these dispatchers are missing key moments in their families lives because they are having to work overtime. Clayton said his daughter played in the band last year, he said he missed every single performance because he was working.
According to Brent Croymans, St. Joseph County Public Safety Communications Center executive director, there are 63 dispatchers currently employed. He said in order to add on to that number the executive board for the dispatch center must approve it, then later the operations board comprised of local police and fire chiefs. The county council can then use those approvals to fund the new employees.
Councilman Rafael Morton said an approval may come after the boards evaluate all the new technologies inside of the center. Morton said they have a lot of new technology such as computer assisted dispatching systems and phone systems that the county has implemented into the center and want to see how it all works.
ABC 57 reached out to both South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood to ask if they were in favor of these new additions dispatchers are asking for. Mayor Buttigieg sent the following statement:
"The dispatchers and call takers at the 911 center have some of the most stressful and important jobs in the city. The center has gone through major changes and improvements as the new system goes into place, but some concerns still need to be resolved. More money alone won't solve all of the concerns, but we are reviewing staffing levels as part of the budget process."
Councilman Morton said the center's executive board is set to have a meeting on Sept. 7 to evaluate the new technologies.