Hopewell struggles to retain dispatchers
By CAITLIN DAVIS
Jan 1, 2014, 11:30
HOPEWELL — The Hopewell Police Department is restructuring positions for 911 dispatchers. Police Chief John Keohane is eliminating more part-time positions in favor of full-time positions in the hopes of being able to retain officers.
Since 2010, the Hopewell Police Department has lost every part-time employee except for two; those two employees stayed with the department due to the creation of two new full-time positions. Part-time hours in the department have been reduced from 32 to 35 hours a week down to 25 hours, which Keohane said is due to the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
“It’s become a training ground for them,” Keohane said of the police department at the City Council meeting on Dec. 10. “They’ve gone to other agencies and full-time positions.”
In 2009, the department had eight full-time communications officers and four part-time officers and now the department is authorized for six full-time officers with five part-time officers. Keohane wants to go from three part-time officers to two full-time officers, less staffing than was implemented five years prior.
For two full-time positions, it will cost $97,000 a year, which includes salary and benefits. Keohane said with the reduced hours, the department is incurring more overtime. With three part time officers, plus overtime, Keohane said it equates to $99,000.
“I’m having police officers being trained and possibly even a firefighter being trained to do 911 when I lose these people, mainly the part-time people, not the full-time people,” Keohane said.
In addition to costing the department $2,000 more a year for three part-time positions, Keohane said it is costing the department time to try and train the new officers. In terms of dispatchers for the city, Keohane said it is revolving door in the department.
“The training of a dispatcher and getting them ready for the job, that first line of defense for citizens when they answer that 911 call,” Keohane said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor statistics, the employment of 911 dispatchers is expected to increase 12 percent over the course of the next 10 years. In 2010, there were 100,100 dispatchers employed, and by 2020, it is expected that 111,800 dispatchers will be employed.
The Deptartment of Labor is also reporting that as technology continues to grow in the field of communications for dispatchers, such as being able to send text messages to dispatchers, the demand, especially those with technical skills, will continue to increase.
City Council voted unanimously, with Councilors Jackie Shornak and Roosevelt Edwards not in attendance, to approve the elimination of three part-time positions in favor of two full-time positions.
With the new restructuring, the department will now have eight full-time communications officers with two part-time officers. Keohane also told council the new positions will create less overtime in the department.
Support also came from Gail Vance, human resource director for the city of Hopewell. Like Keohane, she said those positions are critical.
“They’re not positions that anybody can come in and do,” Vance said. “There’s a lot of training that’s involved in it and with the Affordable Healthcare Act, we have had to reduce hours and people can’t, in these days and times, they need more money, so I think that’s part of the problem.”
Keohane was pleased with the decision by council to approve his request. He said it has been needed in the department for quite some time.
“I’m getting tired of trying to retain people,” Keohane said.