Anne Arundel County recruiting for 911 dispatcher positions

Wanted: 911 dispatchers.

Officials say the Anne Arundel County Police Department is facing a shortage of 911 dispatchers. Nine vacancies — with more expected with end-of-the-year retirements — has the Police Communication Operations team at the Millersville headquarters working overtime.

An open house for recruitment is planned for Thursday.

The team that took more than 970,000 calls last year has some dispatchers working up to two to six shifts of overtime each week, said PCO manager Ann Pingle. Most sign up for overtime to pitch in during the shortage, but when people take off, dispatchers are drafted into mandatory overtime. There are 12 people in training on the floor doing observational work, and a class of four will be able to start helping out in the spring, Pingle said.

Recent recruits can’t help fill these gaps until they finish training in April 2018. Out of, say, a class of eight people, four or fewer will finish training, she said.

“Most people in the profession will get applicants who get into training and after halfway they quit,” she said.

Bill Biermann, approaching 21 years as a dispatcher for Anne Arundel County, said those who can make it through the six months of training need to be multitaskers, think quickly and be computer-oriented. Sometimes dispatchers deal with 20 to 40 police units at a time, he said.

“Type A people who can take control will do well here,” he said.

His most important qualification for the job: compassion.

“Even if it’s a slow day and you just helped someone get a tow truck, or you talked to someone who was suicidal, you know they got the help they needed,” he said.

The staff shortage, he said, has increased stress — but has also brought the dispatchers together as a team.

Pingle, who worked in PCO for 30 years in Florida and just finished her first year in Anne Arundel, said a career as a dispatcher is rewarding.

“It’s never boring,” she said. “There’s a reason we keep coming back and doing it every day.”

Pingle said recruits should know only about 5 percent of calls are “in progress” or something actually happening. For example, a domestic dispute that is still taking place while a person calls 911 is in progress. The other 95 percent of calls are after-the-fact reports.

Recruits start out at $19.01 a hour, or $39,541 a year. After the first year, they get a 9 percent raise. Pingle stressed that, along with the expected overtime, dispatchers will have to work holidays and weekends.

Despite the stress, the county has resources to help dispatchers. A support dog named Comfort makes the rounds throughout the police station. There are also employee assistance programs and support groups, and peer support workers can help dispatchers, she said..

“When people call 911, it’s probably the worst day in their life,” she said. “There’s usually one call that’s difficult to overcome, but we have resources to help them handle it.”

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