The Nassau County Police Department has cut back on the number of civilians who answer and dispatch 911 calls after a decadelong reduction in emergency requests.
Leaders of two Nassau unions say the change, which became effective July 16, jeopardizes police and public safety.
But acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter pointed to a 25 percent decrease in calls dispatched to police cars over the past decade in arguing that the cuts do not put the public or police at risk.
Under the new policy, the department reduced the number of dispatchers from three to two at two of the five 911 call center consoles from 2 to 7 a.m.
Dispatchers are civilian police employees who deploy resources such as K-9, aviation and ambulances to officers at crime scenes and accidents.
The number of 911 call takers, who interact directly with the public, was reduced by one operator on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The move reduces the number of dispatchers on the early morning shift from 15 to 13. The number of 911 call takers varies depending on factors including the time of day. Nassau employs a total of about 150 dispatchers and call takers.
Leaders of Nassau's two largest unions say the dispatcher staffing changes will leave only one dispatcher available to handle calls at two consoles when the other dispatcher is on break -- and that might be insufficient if multiple incidents occur.
In an Aug. 8 letter to Krumpter, Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta, who represents dispatchers and 911 call takers, called the changes "unsafe and at times dangerous." He said the reduced staffing "places the public, the police officers on patrol and our police civilians working at CB [the communications bureau] in jeopardy."
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to Krumpter that the cuts put "police officer's safety at risk." Carver said that "by cutting back staffing, information may not be given properly to [police] cars."
Krumpter provided data showing that in 2004, the bureau dispatched 500,517 calls to police cars and ambulances, while last year there were 373,093 calls dispatched. The county is on pace to dispatch 360,650 calls in 2014, reflecting an overall drop in crime, he said.
Krumpter said if dispatchers working alone get too busy, operators at other stations can be shifted around and breaks can be rescinded. The staffing changes have not "endangered our members or the public," he said.
Krumpter said the changes would not cause layoffs, saying the moves were meant to match staffing to need, not to cut costs.
Krumpter said he cut the number of 911 call takers by one operator in August 2013 because of a reduction in call volume to the bureau.