I-Team investigation finds shortage of police, EMS dispatchers to answer 911 calls

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CLEVELAND - The Fox 8 I-Team is investigating more open jobs for Cleveland dispatchers and what it means when you call 911, especially with the city now taking in hundreds more emergency calls each day.

Last year, we first exposed the problem, and we found delays sometimes in getting 911 calls answered quickly. In fact, the family of a baby shot on Cleveland’s east side waited a minute and a half for a Cleveland dispatcher to pick up.

Now the I-Team has found more open positions than we did before, and we found city dispatchers answering as many as an extra 600 more calls a day.

The extra calls are cell phone 911 calls. Until recently, those calls had first been handled by county dispatchers. Now those cell emergency calls go directly to the city.

The city says it has openings for 13 police dispatchers and 4 ambulance dispatchers. We’re told the city has new EMS dispatchers in training, and the city is in the process of hiring new police dispatchers. However, the police dispatchers likely won’t complete the hiring process and training for months.

A police commander says part of the problem is the stress of the job. Many folks decide they can’t handle it or get tired of it, and that leads to openings.

The open positions have been filled with dispatchers working overtime. Often, that overtime is mandatory or forced so that the city doesn’t dip below minimum staffing for handling 911 calls.

Wednesday, during a city council tour of the dispatch area, Councilman Jeff Johnson echoed a concern of union leaders. He worried that overworked dispatchers could lead to critical mistakes in life and death situations.