Hiring fixes "dangerous situation"

Understaffed for Months, Three New 911 Dispatchers for Southampton Village




The Southampton Village Board approved hiring two new public safety dispatchers on Friday, making for total of three new dispatchers hired in the last two weeks. The move comes after pressure from the dispatchers union president to fill months-long vacancies that the union president called a dangerous situation.

During a special meeting on Friday, Mayor Jesse Warren and the board hired George Carentz and Christian Bobinski to fill those positions. At a board meeting on August 25, the village hired Alfred Callahan Jr. to fill a recently vacated dispatcher position. Callahan is also the Southampton Fire Department’s first assistant chief.

“Public safety dispatch units across Long Island could all use additional help right now, and we are happy to increase the size of our team by 30%,” Warren said in a statement after the meeting, just one day before the “Back the Blue Rally,” to show support for law enforcement, took place in the village and just a few weeks before a contested village board election.

On Monday, Michael Reid, the president of the Southampton Village Police Radio Operators Benevolent Association, said he took “a deep breath” after Friday’s meeting, following months of pushing the board to fix an employee shortage that he said in a letter, later made  public, was creating a dangerous situation.

Village dispatchers do not only dispatch for the Southampton Village Police Department, but for the Southampton Fire Department and the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance, which the village financially oversees. The village also receives money from two other agencies to take its 911 calls; the Bridgehampton Fire Department and the North Sea Fire Department. This year, they also have been taking calls for the newly-formed village ocean rescue squad.

In 2019, dispatchers answered 57,524 calls on administrative phone lines and 2,270 emergency 911 calls, dispatching 18,881 calls for service between the five agencies, according to Reid. That averages to 162 phone calls and 51 calls for service per day.

Reid said their rules and procedures call for the department to staff 12 people and a two supervisor. When he became a village dispatcher in 2011, they were already short one. Earlier this year, a longtime employee retired earlier and then one dispatcher resigned to take a position in the private sector and they entered the busy summer season short two.

While one dispatcher was hired, she soon left to take another position, they worked mostly with only nine dispatchers. The past few weeks they have even been working with only eight dispatchers on the roster because one dispatcher had to take a leave due to a family health emergency. Since by law, they must have at least two dispatchers 24 hours a day, seven days a week , they have been working 16 to 18-hour shifts with lots of overtime — as much as $144,000, Reid said. A dispatcher’s starting salary is $49,194.95.

“Our crew, our dispatchers have really stepped up and have done an amazing job this summer,” Reid said. People not going on vacation as they normally may have in the summer due to COVID-19 was a help, he said.

Reid said he was not expecting the board to add three positions over the last few weeks, but he does think public pressure helped. In a June letter he wrote to the board, “Your inaction has caused a dangerous situation that will put the lives of village residents, visitors, first responders and employees at risk.”

The Southampton Village police union recently took a “vote of no confidence” for the mayor, who has just completed his first year in office.

“I told the mayor, I don’t care for politics, who likes you, who doesn’t like it. I just told him, ‘We are in a very bad position right now.’ For a while, it seemed like it was falling on deaf ears,”  Reid said. “I don’t know what clicked. I don’t care what clicked, as long as we got somebody hired.”

“Public safety and health in Southampton Village is a top priority for me, and we are strong supporters of our law enforcement community. We wanted to thank all of public safety dispatchers and SVPD for their hard work, especially since the pandemic,” Warren said.

According to the mayor, the current administration has added two additional police officers to Southampton Village police and increased police spending by approximately $450,000 in his April 2020 proposed budget.

taylor@indyeastend.com