YUBA CITY – It is the first voice you hear on the other end if you have ever called 911.
Area dispatchers say a shortage is plaguing the state as a local law enforcement agency implements a temporary solution.
"To me, our dispatchers are kind of our unsung heroes. They're the first voice you hear when you call into the sheriff's department," said Sheriff Brandon Barnes of Sutter County.
Now, it seems these unsung heroes are disappearing.
"Dispatchers in that profession have chronically been understaffed," said Susie Rivera, a dispatcher for the Folsom Police Department.
She is also president-elect of the Northern California Chapter of APCO International, a professional organization for employees of public safety communications.
The more than 30-year veteran explains the constant emotional trauma in which very few professionals meet someone for the first time on what may be the worst day of their lives.
"You will hear people shoot themselves on the phone. You will hear women and men get beat up on the phone," she said. "You'll hear the suicides. You'll hear the murders."
Then, they disconnect to take the next call.
Yet, the biggest culprit behind the chronic shortage is pay.
Sheriff Barnes said his department is allocated 13 dispatch positions, including supervisors. He acknowledges the agency lags behind in pay compared to neighboring departments but points to how the county board of supervisors just approved another 7% raise for their dispatcher positions.
Currently, the department is at three dispatchers including a supervisory role. The office said it hired four dispatchers, but training can last between three to four months.
In the meantime, the department is temporarily transferring 911 calls to the Yuba County Sheriff's Office from midnight to 8 a.m. every day. The shift is expected to last approximately 90 days.
As the department continues recruiting, it's hoping someone answers its urgent call.
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