ST. LOUIS — A move by St. Louis 911 leaders to cover staffing shortages is drawing concerns from union representatives.
An email went out this weekend explaining, that "due to extreme staffing issues" the police traffic for Districts 1-3 would be covered by one dispatcher with another working Districts 4-6.
There would be two people covering all the police traffic for the city's six districts.
"Over the years it is not unusual for them to have a couple of districts that were patched together for one dispatcher to handle, but to see two and three and the majority of them all together is a little…" St. Louis Police Officers Association Busiess Manager Joe Steiger said trailing off before adding, "that could lead to some issues."
The email acknowledges that officers might have difficulty getting through, saying "if you do have an emergency and cannot get on the radio PLEASE USE YOUR EMERGENCY BUTTONS."
"There used to be nine districts. We're down to six now. So the call volume is a lot greater than it was. And so to have multiple districts all on one channel, it is a danger to the police officers. It's not safe," Steiger said.
The Ethical Society of Police echoed that statement providing 5 On Your Side with the following statement:
"ESOP would like to thank all of the 911 Dispatchers & Evaluators for their dedicated hard work to keep the city safe.
"Not having enough 911 evaluators/dispatchers means delayed or unanswered emergency calls for our citizens. Frustrations from long 911 wait times and calling repeatedly without anyone picking up means numerous calls are going unanswered and emergencies are going unserved.
"Dispatchers have three districts patched together at times. Calls for PD, Fire, and EMS are transferred through the SLMPD 911 system. When these types of calls go unanswered, bad things happen — criminal incidents, medical emergencies with no aid being rendered and structures on fire, possibly with people inside.
"There have been dangerous levels of manpower in the unit — at times only two people are taking calls on a shift. The intense pressure and elevated stress fall on the few underpaid 911 evaluators who are doing their best to respond to incoming calls from angry, scared and concerned citizens.
"The dispatchers that we currently have are dedicated to serving this city in spite of the low manpower, low morale and high turnover rate. These dispatchers are city residents, and yet they are mistreated. This past summer, the dispatch unit refrigerator was broken and ESOP, Park Rangers along with SLPOA delivered water for the hardworking, very underpaid workers.
"ESOP has been told that some elected officials have called 911 and could not get an answer. Those officials used their political influence to get services by contacting other elected officials who then contacted the SLMPD command rank. The average tax-paying citizen does not have that luxury.
"This situation is a critical problem that our elected officials need to prioritize fixing, especially by increasing pay to attract more dispatchers and evaluators. Our city employees and citizens deserve better."
The city outlined plans to streamline 911 services, by bringing the three dispatch services — police, fire, and EMS — under one roof. But union leaders said the main problem is pay, and they're waiting for their chance to weigh in.
"I do think the idea of combining services is something that we can certainly talk about," Steiger said. "The biggest problem with that is that the police association represents the police dispatchers. The fire union represents the fire dispatchers. And neither one of us to my knowledge has been at the table in any discussions of what that looks like. It seems like the best way to get an idea of how to make that work is to ask the people who are actually doing the job."
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said they are short 32 dispatchers, two supervisors, and two managers.