Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – They are there in an emergency; they are the voices on the other end of the line when you call 911. But now, they need your help.
The Tucson Police Department is facing a severe shortage of dispatchers – and it could take several years before they fully recover. According to TPD, 21 dispatchers who are working, while the city is authorized to hire 33 – that means they’re at 64 percent of their ideal workforce.
9 On Your Side asked Asst. Chief Kathleen Robinson if public safety is at risk.
“It’s not at risk. We have minimum staffing. People are coming in on overtime. They are working quite a few hours and I’m trying to give them some relief,” Robinson told KGUN9 News.
Although people rarely consider operators and dispatchers “first responders,” they are the first ones to field emergency calls and get you help. These days, though, they’re hoping to get some help themselves.
“We need people to step up and think about public safety, dispatching, these types of jobs,” Robinson said.
It takes a certain type of person to work at the 911 communications center: one who stays calm, enjoys multitasking and takes pride in helping people.
“The people who are here – are here because they want to be. They like it. They enjoy the challenges it offers and the benefits that come from working with the city,” said Cheryl Alexander, a police communications supervisor.
However, the city admits that starting salaries could be more competitive. Operators start at $14.10 and dispatchers at $15.32. However, Robinson hopes stability and good benefits will be appealing to qualified people.
“We are public servants and we are here to serve. We like doing that, knowing that we could make a difference in the outcome of some calls. It’s gratifying,” Alexander said.
To work at the communications center, operators must have a high school diploma, G.E.D. or equivalent and know how to type. On top of that, dispatchers have to get certified in several areas, as well as pass background checks and polygraph tests. Training takes about one year, before a dispatcher can work independently.