Sickout? Oakland scrambles to field 911 calls as many police dispatchers call in sick

3 mins read

The Oakland police department is having a hard time dispatching 911 calls as a number of its police dispatchers called in sick in their recent shifts, The Chronicle reported.

But the present case has not yet been determined as a sickout, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said, as they are also looking at the probability of pandemic-linked reasons amid the new virus variant surge.

“We are looking into the circumstances of why we had so many dispatchers come down sick,” he told The Chronicle on Wednesday following his attendance at the police recruit graduation held at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center. “We are looking into whether there was something that may have led into the sickness … that they had to call in for.”

High turnover, required overtime, and staffing shortages have overwhelmed the Oakland police dispatch hub in recent years. This resulted in the sluggish 911 call response times, based on a city audit and report of the grand jury.

This weekend’s series of sick calls became the recent safety concern in East Bay city.

According to Oakland chapter president of SEIU Local 1021 Felipe Cuevas, there are 43 dispatchers available while 44 positions are still vacant. Cuevas told The Chronicle in a statement that several dispatchers’ required overtime reached up to 24 hours per week. The overwhelming workload has pushed many to resign.

“This is unsafe for dispatchers, who are exhausted and overburdened, and it’s unsafe for our community,” he said. “These dispatchers take calls from people having the worst days of their lives, people who need and deserve their dispatchers to be fresh, sharp, and at their best.”

But he did not determine whether the illness forms part of a sickout.

Those issues are not new for the police communications division.

Chief Armstrong, when asked whether the sick calls were made by dispatchers to go against mandatory overtime, said: “I’m not sure. We are looking into that.”

“We don’t anticipate this happening in an ongoing basis, we expect all of our dispatchers to be at work,” he said. “They’ve been here the remainder of this week. I’m confident that that was an isolated event.”

“I really thank the local other agencies that supported us during this weekend when those dispatchers weren’t available,” he furthered. “They really played a key role in coming into Oakland and helping our dispatch center remain available to our community.”

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