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State police desperate for dispatchers

July 10, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - All seven full-time dispatching jobs at a West Virginia State Police dispatching center in Jefferson County are vacant, and a state police administrator said he is concerned about trooper safety.

Local officials said the vacancies are another example of how low salaries for state employees are affecting state government operations in the Eastern Panhandle.

The dispatching station at the state police barrack in Bardane, W.Va., handles calls for state police in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties, state police said.

The Bardane facility began losing dispatchers about eight months ago, and the last full-time dispatcher left about two weeks ago to take a better-paying job at Berkeley County's 911 center, according to 1st Sgt. Eric Burnett, who oversees state police offices in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties.

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"This is the busiest dispatch center in the state, and I don't have anyone to staff it," Burnett said.

Starting pay for a state police dispatcher is about $16,500 a year, Burnett said.

By comparison, starting dispatchers can earn about $31,000 a year at Jefferson County's 911 center, about $27,000 at Berkeley County's 911 center and about $25,000 at the Martinsburg Police Department, Burnett said.

Burnett said several part-time dispatchers help take calls for state police, but only three of 21 dispatching shifts are being covered by local dispatchers.

The rest of the time, local calls to state police are routed to a state police dispatching station in Romney, W.Va., where dispatchers are handling calls for state police in Hampshire, Hardy, Grant and Mineral counties, Burnett said. The Romney dispatchers also handle fire and medical calls, unlike state police dispatchers in Bardane, Burnett said.

Burnett said he does not believe the lack of full-time dispatchers is affecting response times to incidents, but he said he is concerned about trooper safety.

If a trooper is involved in a disturbance or an emergency in the Eastern Panhandle and only has a few seconds to call for help, there is a possibility that trooper might not get the needed help because the dispatchers in Romney are busy dealing with other troopers and calls, Burnett said.

"It's just a matter of time before something fails," Burnett said.

Burnett said state police officials in Charleston, W.Va., have tried to get raises for dispatchers but have been turned down.

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, said low pay for state employees like state police dispatchers is an issue local lawmakers are concerned about. Local lawmakers have been trying to convince other lawmakers from across the state to support so-called "locality pay" for Eastern Panhandle teachers, which would be higher pay for local teachers to help prevent them from being lured to neighboring states for higher pay.

If low state employee pay is starting to reach a "critical point" with state police dispatchers, "someone will have to take notice," Tabb said.

A state police administrator said he was not as concerned about trooper safety as Burnett.

Dispatchers are "just doing it from another location," said Mark DeBord, deputy chief of staff for West Virginia State Police headquarters in South Charleston, W.Va.

DeBord said he expects state police to work with Gov. Joe Manchin's office and state lawmakers to address the problem of low salaries.

One potential problem with dispatchers handing calls from Romney, W.Va., is that they might not be as familiar with the area as local dispatchers and might not be able to offer the same degree of assistance to a trooper in trouble, said Jeff Polczynski, who oversees Jefferson County's 911 center.




Dispatcher salaries



Starting pay for dispatchers in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia:

State police - $16,500

Martinsburg police - $25,000

Berkeley County 911 - $27,000

Jefferson County 911 - $31,000

Source: State Police 1st Sgt. Eric Burnett

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