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El Paso police union: Dispatchers are overworked, making mistakes

They are the voice of relief when something is wrong. But the local police union says some El Paso County 911 District employees are overworked, which is affecting his staff.

Sgt. Ron Martin is president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association. He has been keeping a close eye on the dispatch center.

"You're having dispatchers that are working 16 hours straight. No sleep," Martin said.

Dispatchers in the center in downtown El Paso receive more than 2,000 calls a day. This means call-takers and dispatchers are constantly communicating with firefighters and law enforcement officials around El Paso.

Martin said some employees are worked into the ground and afraid to speak up out of fear of losing their jobs.

"You cannot work an employee in that environment for that long and expect them not to make an error," he said.

Martin said the errors include prioritizing calls incorrectly, which affects response times.

"Then an officer gets sent and says, 'This is not a subject disturbing, this is a guy trying to kill someone with a gun,'" Martin said. "We initiated what we call a safety investigation on the command center because you're jeopardizing the safety of our officers in the field."

El Paso Fire Department spokesperson Carlos Briano said there are 82 call-takers and dispatchers and 14 supervisors at the center. That is 19 employees more than what the city believes is the minimum and 36 short of the goal staffing level.

"Our goal, which we were approved by the city of El Paso, is to have 118 public service communicators and 15 supervisors," Briano said.

Briano said employees do work overtime to make up for sick and vacation time and have the proper training to handle any and all hours.

"We trust their training. We trust the tools that we give them that it's going to be dispatched to the appropriate division," Briano said.

Martin said the problem should have been addressed years ago.

"You cannot put a Band-Aid over this issue," he said. "The last thing you want is to get an officer killed or citizen killed because of something like that."

Martin said it isn't easy to recruit and keep people around with the current conditions, which he said include low pay.

"You have to invest the money in the employees first," he said.

Martin said the employees who have been there a long time have a spouse in the field and feel obligated to stay. Briano said there are multiple recruitment events a year in order to fill the front lines of one of the country's safest cities.

CBS4 reached out to the city of El Paso several times, requesting copies of time cards, but they still have not been provided.

A new $25 million dispatch center is expected to open sometime next year in Northeast El Paso.

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