KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When you dial 911, it should ideally take about 10-15 seconds to speak with someone.
Right now, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department's wait time is closer to 21 or 22 seconds due to staff shortages.
It may not seem like much, but when every second counts during an emergency, that extra time can mean a lot.
KCPD is working to fill the positions to better serve the community.
The communications unit is divided into two roles, which include call takers and dispatchers. Call takers primarily speak with members of the public who dial 911, ask them questions and decide if the call requires a police response.
If calls require a police response, a dispatcher will speak directly with responding officers and provide them details.
Tamara Bazzle, training supervisor for the KCPD communications unit, said the department has been seeing a significant decrease in the number of applications over the last few years. Bazzle said KCPD received about 220 applications in 2020, 73 in 2021 and has only received 33 so far in 2022.
She said the decrease is likely due to a variety of reasons that make the job challenging.
"It is tough work so we don't always receive the number of applications that we would like," Bazzle said. "It also requires a person with a specific skill set, someone who is able to make decisions, use good judgment to be able to come in here and learn this position."
While the position can sometimes be a thankless job, for 31-year dispatcher veteran Carrie Stephenson, the job is also rewarding and fulfilling.
"To be able to provide help for someone else means a lot to me," Stephenson said.
Stephenson initially wanted to work in the health care field when she was younger because her dream was always to help others. However, she discovered the 911 dispatcher position and has never looked back.
Stephenson said she feels KCPD cares about her and the other workers who feel like her family.
"I still love doing my job, and I can retire now, but I still keep coming to work every day, I enjoy coming here, it's my life," Stephenson said.
Bazzle said the staff shortage means other workers may have to work longer days, doing a job that is already stressful.
Bazzle said the department requires a thorough amount of training after someone is hired for a call taker role, which begins with five weeks of classroom training to learn geography, customer service and officer safety.
"If they complete that training, they move to on the job training where they have a minimum of seven weeks where they are sitting directly with a trainer to build on what they've learned from class," Bazzle said.
Workers are then continuously monitored for 14 weeks.
While the job does require shift work, call taker and dispatchers work ten-hour days, Bazzle said the department offers a competitive benefits package and is working on raising pay for the job and adding more wellness and mental health initiatives to help workers balance the stress that comes with the job.
"Sometimes the things that they hear can take a toll on them, it's not normal, they speak to people when they are not in the best of situations so sometimes the negative impact on that can also weigh on our members," Bazzle said.
While the job can be demanding, Stephenson said as someone with a passion for helping others, there's no other place she would have wanted to spend the last 31 years of her professional life.
"I like to help people, and when you are doing this job you are helping someone, whether it be to just talk to them or whether you send an ambulance or officers, whatever you are doing you are helping them," Stephenson said.
Anyone interested in applying or learning more can visit KCPD's career website.