TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Problems continue to plague the Shawnee County Emergency Dispatch Center ten months after KSNT News first aired a special report. Shawnee County Commissioners told the sheriff Monday morning they now want an update every two weeks on the situation at the emergency dispatch center. The decision came at this morning’s meeting where commissioners went over a letter from former Topeka City Manager Jim Colson in which he expressed concern over current conditions.
Dispatchers are behind the scenes making sure our 911 calls go to the right people… Whether it’s sheriff’s office, police or fire. But for the past 2 years — the Shawnee County Emergency Communications Center hasn’t had enough dispatchers.
“If your son is on the other end of that radio screaming for help, don’t you want the person they are screaming for to be able to be there completely present to help them out? We can’t do that with what we have,” a dispatcher said.
And working with what they have has caused Topeka officers to fear for their safety.
“They will not stop cars because they are afraid dispatchers won’t be able to hear them give the correct location and where they are put out where they call in their car stops at,” Sgt. Kristen Marr said.
Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones says his office is still working on the dispatch shortage.
“We have experienced an uptick in applications and the prospects of hiring has been improved,” Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones said.
“We currently have 6 interviews scheduled this week alone and about 10 candidates in the interview process,” Capt. Lance Royer of the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office said. Never have we had 16 applicants at one time.
Together, the sheriff’s office and Washburn Tech launched a program this fall to train emergency dispatchers in response to the crisis. Pay has also been increased to attract applicants.
“The starting salary is now competitive at 15.35 an hour. Up from just 13.77 an hour,” Capt. Royer said.
Sheriff Jones says the higher salaries put a strain on his budget…
“I cannot mix the two, personnel money is personnel money. Operational money is operational,” Sheriff Jones said.
The county commissioners disagreed saying…
“If you are going to spend it all on vehicles and other things instead of investing in personnel, that’s a problem,” Bob Archer, Shawnee County Commissioner said.
The sheriff’s office says they have 29 dispatchers right now. They are looking to hire 18 more dispatchers but only have the money for 5 according to Capt. Royer.
Sheriff Jones says management of the dispatch center was transferred to the county 20 years ago. The sheriff’s office began directly overseeing the dispatch center in 2008.