On top of the normal stress that comes with the job, many North Texas 911 dispatchers have also had to deal with extended work hours.
They’re filling the gaps created by the number of dispatcher vacancies many cities, including Lewisville, are experiencing.
Kevin Deaver, Lewisville police chief, said the city’s dispatch team has been short of bodies for about six years. Currently there are 20 positions but five are vacant and four are in a six-month training period.
One issue is the number of departures.
“The last five years we’ve hired 33 dispatchers,” Deaver said. “Eleven are still employed with the police department.”
According to data City Manager Donna Barron presented to the City Council last month the longevity of a dispatcher’s employment has been an issue for several years. For example in 2015 the average length of employment for a dispatcher was 148 days, with 55 days being the minimum. In 2020 it was 151 days and 119 days, respectively.
This year three dispatchers have been hired, and one of those remains.
Having constant vacancies forces departments to find ways to cover shifts, and in Lewisville that has meant overtime.
“We put in mandatory overtime to fill the vacancies,” Deaver said. “That impacts the city financially, but more importantly it affects the time off away from the job. It’s good for a dispatcher’s wellness to be away from work on a day off.”
Deaver said that’s not something the city’s dispatchers have been able to enjoy in a while since vacancies have been commonplace for years.
“It’s a very stressful job, and it’s not cut out for everyone,” Deaver said.
He said the department will hire quality candidates, but once hired they’re not able to pass the training, specifically the stress and the multitasking.
“It takes a unique person to multitask and to deal with the stress, knowing what’s going on over the radio and handling a crisis day in and day out,” Deaver said.
Deaver said the vacancies haven’t led to 911 calls being missed, but he said the help is needed to give the existing staff some relief.
One plan to recruit more dispatchers is to implement a step pay plan. The minimum and maximum salaries will remain the same, but there will be seven 5-percent steps employees move through annually, which allows them to reach their maximum pay after seven years.
“A lot of our survey cities are moving to a step pay plan and moving their pay plan more quickly,” Barron said. “So we think it’s an important move.”
Another plan is a lateral transfer program. Similar to a program LPD implemented to address police officer shortages in 2016, a lateral transfer program will allow a dispatcher from another city to come to Lewisville at the same rate they’re making at their current city without starting over at the base salary or having to go through an academy.
“We’d get an experienced person from another agency who is already certified,” Deaver said.
The plan worked for the police department, Deaver said.
“We were able to fill a lot of vacancies,” he said. “At one point we were even fully staffed.”
Deaver said Lewisville isn’t the only department going through dispatcher shortages.
“Virtually every police department is experiencing this for the same reason,” Deaver said. “Other departments have looked at innovative ways to attract employees.”
Lewisville will launch the new pay plan June 16. Barron said the step plan and the lateral hires plan will cost $60,000 per year, or $20,000 for the remainder of this year.
Deaver said the city is also heavily marketing its dispatcher openings. He said anyone who feels they have what it takes to be a dispatcher should apply at protectlewisville.com.