Casper Police

Casper Police Department patrol vehicles sit in a city lot on West A Street in downtown Casper.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

A city’s first responsibility is to provide for the safety of its residents.

That means staffing a police force to protect people and enforce the law, a fire department to respond to emergencies and medics who can care for the injured.

But there’s another equally important part of our public safety system – the dispatchers who provide the critical link between emergency responders and the people seeking help.

Twelve emergency and public safety agencies rely on the dispatch center in Casper. Its staff handles calls for police and fire, but also Life Flight, Metro Animal Services and Wyoming Medical Center. Those responsibilities grow on nights and weekends to include issues related to streets, sewers and the water system.

Those myriad responsibilities make clear the importance of the dispatch center in the overall safety of our community. But a recent report by an outside agency has raised concerns about how the center is staffed and supervised.

The report, which was part of a broader examination of the Casper Police Department, found that dispatchers were understaffed, under-supervised and overworked. That’s concerning, given that the effectiveness of dispatchers can affect response times and the safety of police, fire and other emergency responders who rely on them for information.

The authors of the report noted that one manager and one supervisor oversee the 13 dispatchers and one call-taker in Casper. But the manager doesn’t work in the dispatch center, meaning the supervisor is responsible for directly overseeing 14 people.

Currently, the dispatch center has six open positions, meaning if they are filled, one supervisor could be responsible for the oversight of 20 staffers. That, according to the report, would be “beyond reason.” The report also noted that understaffing meant the center paid out more than 1,000 overtime hours in one year.

Given those circumstances, it seems some changes are in order. The report offered several recommendations including the hiring of part-time staffers, establishing voicemail extensions for individual police officers and directing non-emergency calls away from communications employees.

We hope that the Casper City Council and city officials take the report’s findings seriously. Dispatch services are essential, and if there are ways to improve the current situation, they should be investigated, whether they are recommendations from the report or from city leaders.

The dispatchers who staff Casper’s center are by all accounts hardworking employees with immense responsibilities. Their jobs are, by their very nature, stressful and demanding. They deserve to work in a center that is properly staffed and supervised.

City leaders have much on their plates right now. But we hope they give the report careful consideration and take steps to improve the existing system. Because when it’s the middle of the night and you need help, it’s the dispatchers who will send it your way.

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Joshua Wolfson joined the Star-Tribune in 2007, covering crime and health before taking over the arts section in 2013. He also served as managing editor before being named editor in June 2017. He lives in Casper with his wife and their two kids.

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