EDITORIAL: At Meriden dispatch, ‘numbers are not improving’

Meriden’s chronically understaffed Emergency Communications Center is understaffed again — a condition that puts police, firefighters and the public at risk and is therefore completely unacceptable.

The staffing of this critical service has been in a dire state almost routinely over a period of years. The city is going to “really take a hard look” at the chronic turnovers plagued the center, according to Mayor Kevin Scarpati, because another sharp dip in staffing levels now has some dispatchers working multiple shifts.

How much a “hard look” will accomplish, though, remains to be seen.

Speaking during a recent meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee, Scarpati said the center is down to six full-time and two part-time dispatchers, despite hiring incentives. The goal has been to have at least 10 full-timers on board.

“If we go the way we are going, it will be years before we see 10 full-time dispatchers,” the mayor said. “The numbers are not improving.”

Staff turnover — with the 14-member staff at times falling to less than half that number — goes back to at least 2017. In the past year, new people were hired and in training, and more candidates were in the interview or hiring process.

As of May 3, the city had eight full-time and four part-time dispatchers on staff, a high-water mark that suggested the situation might be turning around.

Undermining that progress, though, is the fact that it’s a high-stress job, with more to it than many candidates might realize. Dispatchers have to take the 911 calls reporting crimes, often from the victims themselves, and pass along detailed information to police.

“People don’t always know what this job is until they get in here,” Director Doree Price said.

Perhaps it will help that new dispatchers are also doing ride-alongs with police to help them understand their roles from a patrol officer’s perspective.

With a problem so chronic, no bright idea from an outside observer is likely to prove useful. But let there be an effort to keep plugging away at the issue, with a renewed sense of urgency. The first responders and the public deserve no less.

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