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KCPD battles shortage of 911 call takers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When dialing 911, it should ideally take about 10 to 15 seconds to speak to someone.

Right now, the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department wait time is closer to 21 or 22 seconds due to a staffing shortage.

It may not seem like much, but when every second counts in an emergency, that extra time can mean a lot.

KCPD is working to fill positions to better serve the community.

The communication unit is divided into two roles, which include call takers and dispatchers. Call takers primarily speak with members of the public who dial 911, ask them questions and decide if the call requires police action.

If calls require a police response, a dispatcher will speak directly with responding officers and provide them with details.

Tamara Bazzle, training manager for KCPD’s communications unit, said the department has seen a significant drop in the number of applications over the past few years. Bazzle said KCPD received about 220 applications in 2020, 73 in 2021 and only received 33 so far in 2022.

She said the decrease is likely due to a variety of reasons that make labor difficult.

“It’s hard work, so we don’t always get the number of applications we’d like,” Bazzle said. “It also requires someone with a specific skill set, someone who is able to make decisions, use good judgment to be able to come here and learn this position.”

While the job can sometimes be a thankless job, for Carrie Stephenson, a 31-year-old former dispatcher, the work is also rewarding and fulfilling.

“Being able to help someone else means a lot to me,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson first wanted to work in healthcare when she was younger because her dream was always to help others. However, she discovered the 911 dispatch station and never looked back.

Stephenson said she felt KCPD cared about her and the other workers who felt like family.

“I still love doing my job and I can retire now, but I still come to work every day, I love coming here, it’s my life,” Stephenson said.

Bazzle said the staff shortage means other workers may have to work longer hours, doing already stressful work.

Bazzle said the department needed extensive training after hiring someone for a call-taking position, which begins with five weeks of classroom training to learn geography, customer service and safety. agents.

“If they complete this training, they move on to on-the-job training where they have a minimum of seven weeks where they sit directly with a trainer to build on what they learned in the classroom,” said said Bazzle.

The workers are then continuously monitored for 14 weeks.

Although the job requires shift work, call takers and dispatchers work ten-hour days, Bazzle said the department offers a competitive benefits package and is working to increase pay for the job and add more wellness and mental health initiatives to help workers balance stress. that comes with the job.

“Sometimes the things they hear can weigh on them, it’s not normal, they talk to people when they’re not in the best of times, so sometimes the negative impact on that can weigh on our members as well” , Bazzle said.

Although the job can be demanding, Stephenson said that as she was passionate about helping others, there was nowhere else she would have wanted to spend the last 31 years of her professional life.

“I love helping people, and when you do this job you’re helping someone, whether it’s just talking to them or sending an ambulance or officers, whatever you do, you’re helping them,” said Stephenson.

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