When I was appointed chief last October, one of the units on this department most vital to public safety was inadequately staffed. Our Communications Unit, which handles all 911 calls in Kansas City, was down 24 people. We had been under a hiring freeze since a $15 million budget cut in 2008, but I knew those were positions that had to be filled.
I made those positions a priority, and I am happy to report that we have hired 14 call-takers since November. Nine of them have completed their training and are on the job full-time, and the remaining five will join them soon.
These call-takers are the first people you have contact with in an emergency. They handle all manners of stressful and life-or-death situations with professionalism. We conduct frequent quality assurance checks on them, and they consistently perform admirably. They handled more than 843,000 calls in 2011.
These call-takers and dispatchers have been professional and effective in spite of incredible demands that have been placed upon them the last few years during the hiring freeze. To prevent 911 callers from being placed on hold for long periods of time, our call-takers and dispatchers have been forced to work mandatory overtime. In 2011, they put in more than 10,000 hours of overtime to make up for being short-staffed. This has been a big strain on the employees.
With the high levels of turn-over in a stressful, 24/7 job like this, we still are down 14 positions. I hope that by continuing to work toward fully staffing the Communications Unit, we can ease some of the burden our dispatchers and call-takers have taken on to protect this city. In the mean time, I want them to know I appreciate everything they do.
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