Editor, The Spotlight:
Recent local news articles reported on an early budget presentation by the Bethlehem Supervisor and Comptroller, indicating that the town will face a $3.5 million budget gap in 2013. Beginning next month, specific cuts will be put on the table at board meetings. Among the services being examined for possible cuts are police and ambulance. One article stated that consolidation of dispatch services is also being discussed.
We are the dispatchers of the Bethlehem Police Department. During 2011 we handled approximately 50,000 calls. During our shifts we live minute to minute; we never know what the next phone call will bring; a routine shift can become chaotic in a matter of seconds with one phone call. In our world, a minute can mean the difference between life and death; seconds really do count!
Until recently, our Communications Department was fully staffed at 12 dispatchers and a communications supervisor. There are now two vacancies which have not been filled – our supervisor position and one telecommunicator position; this means that six nights a week from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. our communications center is manned by only two dispatchers.
Normally each eight-hour shift is staffed by three dispatchers – call taker, fire/EMS dispatch and police dispatch. The Communications Department operates most efficiently when each console is manned. All 911 calls and incoming police lines come through our call taker console. Every fire call, ambulance call and police call is dispatched through our communications center. Dispatchers are also responsible for daily paperwork, handling the public window, paperwork for officers’ arrests and other duties. During each eight-hour shift dispatchers must leave the room to use the facilities, distribute paperwork, and perform other necessary duties. If only two dispatchers are working on a shift and one dispatcher leaves the room, only one person is left in the room to monitor and respond to multiple radio transmissions and phone lines, handle the public window and to dispatch all calls quickly and efficiently.