Suffolk County police 911 dispatchers work the phones at the...

Suffolk County police 911 dispatchers work the phones at the 911 dispatch center at Yaphank police headquarters on April 18, 2013. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk police dispatchers Thursday pressed the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone to immediately increase the number of 911 call center workers to lessen understaffing.

Bellone has money for eight to 10 new 911 operators in his proposed 2016 budget, which the county legislature must approve.

But some members of the legislature's Public Safety Committee said there is money in the current budget to begin hiring now.

Suzanne McBride, a dispatcher and union shop steward, told legislators some operators are having to work mandatory overtime shifts of 12 hours without a break for meals.

While supporting the additional positions in the 2016 budget, she said current workers are overworked and leaving for other jobs, and that hiring needs to begin immediately. McBride said it takes six months to train new workers.

"There's no way we can survive another year. There's no way to sustain the 911 operators under these conditions," McBride said.

Jon Schneider, a deputy county executive for Bellone, said the administration would consider hiring additional people immediately.

"Our policy has been to automatically backfill positions as people leave the department," Schneider said. "We'll be talking with the police department making sure they're bringing . . . [hiring forms] to us as needed."

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-East Setauket) said there is money in the 2015 budget to fill nine vacancies immediately. She urged Bellone to sign forms authorizing the hires, saying that dispatchers have been complaining to the legislature since at least 2012 about understaffing.

Referring to past testimony, Hahn said, "Things now are worse than when we had crying on the record, cursing on the record. Really, what does it take to get a signature on a form?"

Schneider said the performance of Suffolk's call center exceeds national standards. In Suffolk, 96.2 percent of calls were answered within 10 seconds in the first quarter of 2015, Schneider said. National standards call for 90 percent of calls to be answered within that time.

Police said mandatory overtime shifts were up this summer. Last month, administration officials defended staffing levels and predicted that the forced OT shifts would drop this fall after workers returned from vacations.

Suffolk has 134 dispatchers, compared with 142 in January 2014, according to county records.

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