By Mario Conde
The Measure H committee decided to table a three year grant request for Public Safety Dispatchers in order to let City Administration handle this through the appropriate channels.
The request for a three year grant was in response to an item presented to the City Council by Councilman Bill Hodge. Councilman Hodge had received complaints regarding service issues concerning the Public Safety Communication Center. Hodge visited the Center on a few occasions and found that the Center was severely understaffed and the potential for inadequate service was possible due to the lack of staffing. Direction was given by Council to look for ways to increase the efficiency of the communications center. It was recommended that the Police Department approach the Measure H Committee for a grant to assist with staffing issues on a limited term basis.
Police Chief Jim Neujahr understood the position of the Measure H committee to not fund positions but asked this to be given as a grant in order to staff dispatchers, Neujahr explained that prior to the recent personnel cuts, the Dispatch Center was covered by 11 Distpatchers and one Supervisor. The City hiring freeze and austerity measures has reduced the number of Dispatchers to seven. More recently, three of the remaining dispatchers have been off for an extended amount of time for various personal reasons. Two of these dispatchers have since returned to work, and other remains off duty, Chief said.
Neujahr said that the Department has two Community Service Officers assigned to assist in the Dispatch Center. The City Manager allowed for the Department to hire a “temporary” hire to help cover shifts. The extra manpower may appear to be a benefit, but the training required to give the new person the capacity to effective perform the job takes a minimum of six months. As a result, the few dispatchers that are working must split their time between handling emergency calls and training these new dispatchers.
“This unfortunately adds additional stress to our Dispatchers due to the severe personnel shortages that already exist. The Department has tried to maximize coverage during the busiest call times, all the while weighing the price of burning our the few Dispatchers who are working.” Chief Neujahr said.
The Department planned to eliminate the CSO positions and convert them to Public Safety Dispatcher positions. This will be an additional cost of approximately $13,973 per year due to the pay difference between the lower paid CSO and the pay and benefits of a Public Safety Dispatcher. By adding the two reassigned CSO positions to the Dispatch Center, the City would only need to bring on three additional Public Safety Dispatchers. The Department requested two additional PSD positions, on three year grant in the amount of $359,621.20 for the three year period, plus $43,316.30 for the CSO conversion cost, for a total three year cost of $402,937.80.
Councilman Bill Hodge said he brought this up to the attention of the City Council and visited the communications center. Hodge said that Calexico is a unique border community and takes unusual emergency calls due to the proximity to the border. “It’s a matter of efficiency and not having a full dispatch staff is a threat to public safety.” He said.
Mayor Daniel Romero was surprised to have this item on the Measure H agenda. Romero said that this has to be looked internally and then shared with the rest of the Council. Romero said that he supports the concern by Councilman Hodge and Chief Neujahr but this should be addressed by City Manager Oscar Rodriquez, the Finance Director, and the Police Chief. Romero was concerned that this will set a bad president for the Measure H committee if passed.
Hodge replied that the bottom line is that this is an emergency issue for the City and the need to have dispatchers was very important. Commissionaire Mike Davies said that he agreed with the premise of Councilman Hodge and knows from personal experience working as a dispatcher the necessity of having well trained people in those positions. However, he said that there needs to be a process and said it was weird that this item was recommended by a Council member rather than the Council or the Fire and Police Chiefs.
After some discussion, it was decided by the Measure H committee not to take any action at this time and have City Administration handle this situation.