BELLEVUE, Wash. – At Washington State Patrol’s busiest communications center, they answer more than 41,000 calls a month. It is also where they have 14 vacancies to fill.
Sophia Magana and Mindi Mezek both work at the communications center in Bellevue, and they first spoke up in August about a dispatcher shortage.
“We're exhausted. We are there working on very little sleep and doing such an important job with peoples’ lives in our hands,” said Magana.
They say they still work 12-hour shifts on a regular basis.
WSP brought in dispatchers from around the state to help fill 1,128 hours between July 1 and November 15. WSP employees from as far away as Yakima have volunteered to help out, but in some cases that meant the state had to shell out roughly $200 a night for a hotel and $74 a day for meals.
“They are filling gaps, but at a great cost when they could give a raise to the current people that are working and retain the ones they have,” said Mezek.
Mezek says low wages led to the high turnover in the first place.
“We can’t utilize the funds that we are using for per diem and lodging,” said Heather Anderson, WSP communications division commander. “We can’t use that for a raise because we don't legally have the authority to do that.”
Anderson acknowledges WSP dispatchers make on average 24 percent less than other dispatchers around the state.
“We've provided all the data up the chain that we can do, and that's out of our hands at this time,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to fill the positions and get people trained, and we are doing what we can do as far as compensation goes.”
Mezek says it comes down to base pay.
“I make the same now as I did in 2006,” she said. “We are clearly not recognized or appreciated or valued.”
Mezek and Magana realize WSP top brass can’t change it alone, so they are looking at lawmakers and asking for a wage that matches the workload.
WSP has brought in Trooper Cadets to help fill shifts, and they are working to streamline the hiring process so it does not take as long. The state agency has also posted a recruiting video on its blog and social media sites, and they plan to run radio ads soon.