Dozens of SAPD dispatch employees claim morale crisis

SAPD assistant director cites 'growing pains' from adding new employees

SAN ANTONIO – Close to four dozen employees in the San Antonio Police Department's dispatch center claim that threats and bullying from management have eroded its communications operation, according to documents obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

The 60 pages of documents sent in late March to members of SAPD's command staff, including Chief William McManus, outline concerns including speeded-up training for emergency call takers and underqualified people hired as supervisors "putting our department in jeopardy."

DEFENDERS: Cellphones, smart watches can help 911 operators locate people

"I think there's a lot of growing pains. We've added over 90 people out there in the last nine months, so we can try and get a handle on the calls," said San Antonio police Assistant Director Steven Baum.

Baum said he's spent the last month and a half talking to the involved employee groups about how to improve the operation and better integrate supervisors.

The complaints come after the department lowered a 911 abandoned call rate that spiked at over 25 percent at the end of 2015.

City officials, as recently as a few hours before this story aired, pointed out that SAPD's Grade of Service is now consistently in the upper 90's.

Grade of Service is a measurement of how often 911 calls are answered in a specified period of time.

Baum said that despite the recent rash of complaints, the center is running more efficiently.

READ MORE: Caller behavior, system error contributes to 'abandoned' 911 call rate

"Everybody has their perspective. If you're trying to voice your opinion, voice your concerns, and you feel like it's falling on deaf ears, sure, you are going to step up your outcry," said Baum.

The Defenders obtained pages with signatures from 45 dispatch employees, claiming that they are being subjected to a hostile work environment.

Only a handful of the employees signed the sheets anonymously.

The packet of complaints also included letters from employees outlining specific incidents highlighting the problems, including claims that dispatchers are not allowed to stand at their consoles or speak with one another.

Among the dispatch call errors cited by employees:

  • Conflicting locations and no callback number listed
  • No information listed for vehicles involved in an accident
  • Incorrect callback number listed for a 911 caller
  • No description of a male who refused to leave a location

A call taker less than a month out of training labeled a 911 call as a welfare check in March, despite being told by the caller that there was likely a body in a home in the 4900 block of Teasdale and a second victim being rushed to an emergency care center suffering from a head injury from a gun.

The decision to label the call as a welfare check came after the call taker spoke with a supervisor about what to do.

RELATED: 911 call center wait times prompting additions to staff

"She said that there's somebody or might be somebody dead inside the house. Do I send the police to the house?" the call taker asked her supervisor, according to audio of the call released by SAPD.

She was advised by the supervisor to include all notes from the call.

Officers arrived at the home to find the body of 34-year-old Stephanie Woodford.

SAPD officials pointed out that even though other calls for the incident were labeled as a shooting in progress, the call taker who labeled it as a welfare check included important details, including the phrase "1 mans nick name was montrale."

Four days later, Montrail Butler, 21, was arrested in Woodford's death.

"I think the call taker did the best anybody could have done, regardless of experience, with the limited information that she had," said Baum.

Baum said call takers currently get a month of classroom instruction, then several weeks of on-the-job training, before they are released on their own.

Baum defended the current training schedule for call takers but conceded that "whatever that process is, you can't impart experience and you can't impart knowledge from a classroom environment."

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