ST. LOUIS – An internal memo distributed to St. Louis police officers—and obtained by the FOX Files—reveals there were not enough dispatchers in the city this past Saturday evening.
St. Louis Police Officers’ Association Business Manager Joe Steiger said the staffing shortage is nothing new.
“This has been going on for a long time,” Steiger said.
The memo shows there were not enough dispatchers to cover all six of the city’s police districts. As a result, districts had to share the radio frequency with other districts.
Steiger calls it overwhelming, not only for the dispatcher but also for the officers.
“It’s too much. It’s too stressful on them. It’s too much to handle,” Steiger said. “It’s not safe for them, the citizens, or the police officers.”
According to sources, a dispatch supervisor wrote the memo.
A portion of the memo reads, “Please keep in mind that we have one dispatcher handling three different radio channels. If you have an emergency and cannot get on the air, utilize your emergency button.”
“If someone’s speaking on the radio at the time, the only way for you to get the attention of the dispatcher is to hit your…emergency button, so they know you need something immediately,” Steiger said.
Officers were told the city would also be short-staffed on 911 call takers.
Earlier this summer, St. Louis 911 faced scrutiny about emergency calls not being answered in a timely manner.
Kate Coen, 33, died in The Grove when a tree fell on her car during severe storms.
Sebastian Montes tried to call 911, but said no one answered. He went on Instagram Live instead.
“A tree fell on a car; there’s a lady trapped. Please, whoever’s listening to this, right away,” Montes pleaded.
The shortage of dispatchers led the supervisor to request officers keep self-initiated activity “to a minimum.”
Steiger said that would limit proactive policing, like traffic stops.
“When you’re doing pedestrian checks, vehicle stops, traffic checks, traffic stops, violations of traffic,” he said.
A spokesman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said Monday that there are 39 dispatch vacancies.
St. Louis Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Nicole Franklin said dispatch hiring is underway.
“With our recent pay raise, we have seen a healthy amount of new applicants for the trainee position, Public Safety Dispatcher I,” she said.
The city is in the middle of a three-phase plan to improve the 911 system. The city is currently in Phase II, which involves cross-training EMS, fire, and 911 dispatchers.
“Once we have achieved at least 75% of total capacity with both 911 and EMS dispatchers, we can begin cross-training without an impact on operations,” Franklin said. “Currently, many of the fire equipment dispatchers have been cross-trained as EMS dispatchers.”