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St. Louis 911 dispatching merger likely needs state approval, city official says

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Police 911 call center downtown

Dispatcher Charlotte Mitchell takes a call while working at the police 911 call center in downtown St. Louis. A new combined police-fire-EMS call center could be one of the projects partly funded by a capital improvements bond issue that may go before voters at the April 5 election. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

ST. LOUIS — Approval by a state labor agency likely will be needed for a planned consolidation of St. Louis’ police, fire and EMS 911 dispatching units, the head of the city’s civil service system said Wednesday.

Richard Frank, the city personnel director, said the State Board of Mediation would be asked to clarify whether the dispatchers under such a merger would be represented by the city police or firefighters unions.

That possibly could involve a “runoff election” of affected members, he said. The mediation board deals with public-sector representation issues.

Frank, in comments before the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, also said he and his staff have been reviewing the merger plan submitted by Dan Isom, Mayor Tishaura O. Jones’ interim public safety director.

After the personnel department and the Jones administration work out details, Frank said, he will begin negotiations with the two unions — the St. Louis Police Officers Association and Firefighters Union Local No. 73.

Asked by Alderman Bret Narayan, 24th Ward, what happens if the unions don’t agree to a plan, Frank said his only legal responsibility as chief negotiator for the city is “to meet with them” and “do my best to reach some kind of agreement.”

“I’m hopeful that we will have good discussions,” he added. “I believe that will happen.”

Last month union officials and some aldermen complained about a lack of input into the city’s plan to combine the 911 call centers this fall in an attempt to alleviate understaffing and 911 delays.

Now all 911 calls go to police dispatch. If the fire department or EMS, which is part of the fire agency, is needed, police dispatchers transfer calls to separate centers, often resulting in delays.

Isom has said putting dispatchers into the same building and the same pay scale this year would be the first step to fully combine 911.

He has said the city eventually plans to combine dispatchers onto the same 911 software and put them in the same city department under the city Emergency Management Agency.

Frank, in his comments to the aldermanic panel, said there currently are 25 police dispatcher vacancies and nine firefighter dispatcher vacancies.

Bryan Boeckelmann, another city personnel official, said the police department recently filled 22 of its dispatcher vacancies but those individuals still have to complete required medical and psychological exams before they’re hired. Frank said dispatcher job candidates usually pass those reviews.

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