INDIANAPOLIS-- Effective immediately, emergency dispatchers at Marion County's 911 call enter will get a pay raise. The pay hike was approved last night by the City County Council's Rules Committee and is intended to fix a serious problem identified by Eyewitness News.
In November, 13 Investigates reported emergency operators in Indianapolis have been dealing with an emergency of their own: a severe shortage of dispatchers that is contributing to rising 911 wait times. WTHR's investigation also showed many Marion County residents are now forced to wait several minutes just for their emergency calls to be answered by a 911 dispatcher.
Lona O'Conner told 13 Investigates she waited six minutes to get through to 911 while her daughter was having a seizure.
"She just looks me in the eye and she's like 'mommy' and she collapses and starts shaking," O'Conner told WTHR. "I was terrified. I thought i was going to lose my daughter."
Supervisors inside the emergency call center say they have 115 dispatchers, which is 30 dispatchers fewer than needed. They say the staffing shortage and increased wait times are directly related to inadequate salaries for their 911 operators.
The starting salary for a 911 operator in Marion County is about $32,000. Shelby and Madison county dispatchers earn more than $34,000. Hancock County dispatchers make $35,000. Those in Johnson and Hamilton earn at least $38,000, and 911 operators earn more than $40,000 in nearby Morgan, Hendricks and Boone counties.
WTHR also reported that Marion County emergency dispatchers handle up to 20 times more 911 calls than their counterparts in surrounding counties.
The sheriff's department says it used information from WTHR's recent investigation to help convince the City County Council to approve a 10% pay raise for new dispatchers.
The council's Rules Committee unanimously approved the pay raise Thursday night as part of a 3-year contract negotiated between the sheriff's department and the dispatcher's labor union.
"What we hope this will do is entice people to come in and work because the salaries are now more competitive, and we think they're fair and we think this is a step in the right direction," said Louis Dezelan, deputy chief of administration at the Sheriff's Department.
Starting dispatchers in Marion will now earn more than $34,320 -- that's about a $3,000 raise -- and experienced 911 operators will now earn between $35,624 and $40,874. They will also get 2% pay raises in 2020 and 2021. As part of the new contract, all dispatchers will receive a $500 ratification bonus and an additional $1,000 bonus when they reach their tenth year of service at the emergency call center, according to the sheriff's department.
Proposed Marion County Salary Increases
Probationary $31,202 to proposed $34,320 salary Dispatch (2) $32,394 to proposed $35,624 salary Dispatch (Year 3) Salary varies to proposed $36,374 salary Dispatch (Year 4) Salary varies to proposed $37,124 salary Dispatch (Year 5+) Salary varies to proposed $37,874 salary Control Operator (1) $33,202 to proposed $37,320 salary Control Operator (2) $34,393 to proposed $38,624 salary Control Operator (Year 3) Salary varies to proposed $39,374 salary Control Operator (Year 4) Varies to proposed 40,124 salary Control Operator (Year 5) Varies to proposed 40,874 salary
The salaries for 911 dispatchers in Marion County are still below those of neighboring counties, but Dezelan believes the pay hike will help attract and retain staff at the emergency call center. The challenge now, he says, is getting enough applicants to apply for the many openings.
"It's a great profession. It now pays a lot better than it did yesterday, and we welcome them to come in the door. We've got openings," he said.
Those interested in applying for a 911 dispatcher position in Marion County can contact the sheriff's department human resources department at 317-327-1508 or click here to apply online.