The San Jose Police Department dispatch center is accepting resignations faster than the department can train and hire replacements.
The department is authorized for 140 dispatchers and call takers, but only has 93 on the payroll right now.
While there are ten people in the academy, they won’t be enough to fill the vacancies when they’re ready to take calls a year from now.
“They’re leaving because of the pension reform, loss of pay,” said Kellie Carroll, a 24-year veteran of the department. “We took a 12-percent cut in pay.”
AFSCME – the union representing San Jose dispatchers and call takers – could not reach an agreement with the city in the last round of contract negotiations, so the city imposed a contract that included a pay cut and higher employee costs for benefits.
Dispatcher Carroll said she had to give up a horse she’d had for 13 years.
Supervisor Sharon Fischer says she’s forced to assign dispatchers and call takers mandatory overtime, extending their days to 14 hours. She says she sympathizes with dispatchers, because she’s living the struggle herself.
“I can’t control my pay cuts. My pay cuts caused me to lose my house that was very difficult,” Fischer said.
“I worked hard, I did my job, I saved my money, I got my house and I feel like it was torn away from me by budget cuts. You take 12 percent from my pay, as a single person, I can’t make my mortgage anymore.”
The pension reform and pay cut impacts on staffing are trickling down to response times.
In the second quarter of this fiscal year, the department answered 90 percent of calls for service within 10 seconds, down from 95.6 percent in the same quarter four years before.
Callers dialing 911 waited 4.5 seconds and callers dialing the 311 non-emergency number waited 57 seconds.
At the same time, call volume is increasing as the people in San Jose dial for service more than once while waiting for an officer to show up at their door.
The city of San Jose is projected to end the year with $10 million in surplus funds, but, Mayor Chuck Reed has said repeatedly that the city can’t afford to give back salary cuts.
However, he has said he would consider one-time bonuses to increase retention within the San Jose Police Department.
Whether that would apply to the dispatchers behind the scene remains to be seen.