Berkeley County 911 center, sheriff’s office face staff shortages

Berkeley County 911 center, sheriff’s office face staff shortages

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The latest effort to hire emergency dispatchers for Berkeley County’s 911 call center netted 275 job applications, but little more than a dozen potential hires remain after the vetting process.

“The job is much more than what people believe it to be,” Berkeley County Central Dispatch Director Mary Kackley said.

Applicants for dispatching jobs are required to undergo testing, a background investigation and significant training before they can be trusted to do the job, but Kackley said many people still equate their work with that of administrative secretaries and receptionists.

“Most people don’t even think of this job as being a career,” said Kackley, who hopes to be able to fill 10 dispatcher positions in the coming weeks.

Five of the 10 open positions are vacancies, but the other five positions haven’t been filled due to space constraints, which only recently were addressed through the completion of a larger call center this fall.

The dispatch center currently has 22 full-time staff and five who work part time. In 2016, the call center handled about 217,000 incoming calls, and a computer-aided dispatch was started for more than 76,000 of them, Kackley told the Berkeley County Council on Thursday.

The county dispatch center’s call volume, which has grown substantially with cellphone usage, is second only to Kanawha County, the state’s largest populated county, and Kackley told council members that she is “amazed” at the increasing amount of violence-related calls.

“It just seems to be growing and growing,” Kackley said. “It’s just astounding to me.”

And dispatchers frequently hear someone’s worst nightmare as part of their job, Kackley said in the interview on Friday.

“It’s (often) not a happy job,” Kackley said.

Despite receiving so many applications, Kackley said 182 of them were deemed ineligible for reasons such as failure to include an address or other basic contact information in their submission.

Among the 51 applicants who appeared to be viable job candidates, 34 agreed to participate in the hiring process, but one cancelled and 10 others didn’t bother to show up to take required preliminary testing, Kackley said.

Of the 23 applicants that ultimately took the test, 15 passed, but one of them declined to continue with the hiring process, Kackley said.

Kackley told county leaders that she hopes to be able to fill all 10 positions, and indicated that she would like to be able to offer the others part-time work, if they qualify.

In her many years as the central dispatch director, Kackley agreed that she has spent a significant amount of time grappling with staffing turnover like other emergency service agencies.

“This is not the kind of work that you do just for the paycheck,” Kackley said.

Sheriff’s department

In other personnel matters on Thursday, county council members reviewed resignation notifications for Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department Deputies John Giangola and Joseph Whitehead. The two resignations increased the total number of department vacancies to at least 11 positions, according to the sheriff’s office.

Whitehead indicated in his resignation letter that he accepted unspecified employment elsewhere, and Giangola stated that he accepted an employment offer from the Loudoun County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Curtis Keller said Friday that the resignations haven’t come as a surprise and actually have been several weeks, if not a number of months, in the making.

“We predicted that was going to happen,” Keller said of the personnel losses that have occurred since he took office Jan. 1.

Aside from officers who might have resigned for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, Keller noted three of the vacancies are the result of terminations. Another was created by a medical retirement.

Keller, who said he worked under five different sheriff’s in his career, agreed that some of the deputies might have pursued other employment because they disagree with his administration’s management style.

“We made them more accountable for their actions — that’s all that we’ve asked of them,” Keller said of an emphasis on following protocol and adhering to rules and regulations.

Keller said he can’t please everybody, but as sheriff is still charged with providing the best protection possible to the citizens of the county.

“I’ve got a lot of good officers here, and I’m proud of each and every one of them,” Keller said.

Keller said efforts to fill the vacancies continue, even as law-enforcement agencies throughout the area also face similar recruiting challenges.

The last recruiting effort netted 10 applicants who agreed to take the civil-service test after passing the physical-agility test, but only three passed the written exam.

“There’s more to it than people think,” Keller said of the job qualifications for deputies.