Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has authorized hiring more than a dozen new police emergency call center employees following complaints about acute staffing shortages.
Aides to Bellone announced the move at Thursday's meeting of the county legislature's Public Safety Committee, where police dispatchers and 911 operators have protested work conditions repeatedly. The civilian workers have complained of having to work 16-hour shifts and sometimes not having time to use the restroom.
Bellone will add a total of 14 employees -- eight 911 operators and six dispatchers -- in coming months. Last winter, Bellone authorized six other hires and five promotions.
Suffolk's police dispatch center, where entry level positions pay about $40,000 a year, had as many as about 30 of its 154 positions vacant early this year. When the new hiring is complete, the division will have about 10 vacancies.
"This is a pretty unique situation," said Tom Vaughn, Bellone's legislative liaison, noting that the county, with a projected $250 million deficit through 2014, is not generally in a position to do much new hiring.
But he said, "public safety is priority one, so I have to make sure we get this right."
Suzanne McBride, a dispatcher and union representative who led calls for increased staffing, called it "wonderful" that Bellone had recognized a "vitally important function."
Public Safety Committee chairwoman Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who had urged the county to act on the dispatcher staffing shortage, also gave Bellone credit. "I have to say I'm impressed," she said.
Vaughn said the administration also is examining ways to make the police department's emergency call center more efficient, including relieving operators of nonemergency calls, which they currently handle.