Balto. Co. using cops, others at 911 center
County has difficulty retaining employees and looks to fill vacancies
Baltimore County officials say they are using firefighters, paramedics and police officers to temporarily fill staffing gaps at the county’s 911 center.
Eight employees from other departments were transferred to the 911 center in September and will be working there until March, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.
Six employees who once worked for 911 but are now police officers, firefighters or paramedics are on temporary assignment as dispatchers. Two others, including a public works employee, are working temporarily in administrative roles at the 911 center.
Baltimore County has had difficulty maintaining staffing levels at the 911 center, which employs both call-takers who answer emergency calls and dispatchers who assign officers and fire crews to respond to calls.
“These are very difficult, challenging positions,” Kobler said.
John Ripley is president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, which represents 911 workers. He asked whether it’s wise to take first responders off the street to work in the 911 center.
“If you pull one officer off the street, it weakens the county’s ability to respond to emergencies,” he said.
This isn’t the first time that the county has pulled back former 911 workers. In spring 2015, seven police and fire department employees were called back to fill vacancies temporarily at 911.
“I think it’s an acknowledgment of the failure of the current direction that the 911 center is going,” Ripley said.
He said many employees are frustrated about a recent switch to 12-hour shifts that rotate among different days, and the amount of required overtime and standby shifts on scheduled days off. The union has filed a grievance with the county over pay adjustments that corresponded with the switch to 12-hour shifts.
Those pressures have led employees to quit, Ripley said. He said bringing back former 911 employees is a stopgap that doesn’t address the fundamental problems.
Kobler said the 911 center has more than the required number of employees. There are 198 employees, she said; the authorized staffing level is 172 employees.
But 47 are recent graduates of training classes and are still doing on-the-job training and not yet working independently. So the 911 center is effectively short the equivalent of 21 employees, Kobler said.
Baltimore County is soliciting applicants for the next training class, set to begin in December.