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‘We were holding calls for 2 to 3 hours ‘: Retired 911 operator says St. Louis City’s dispatch center issues are putting lives in danger

By Melanie Johnson

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — A former 911 dispatcher is pleading with St. Louis City to fix what she calls a broken system with a skeleton crew for a call center.

“When I left, we were holding calls for 2 to 3 hours,” says retired 911 police dispatcher Maureen Ramsey. “We would get people that they would send for us to interview that were wanted.”

Ramsey retired in May 2021 after 44 years on the job. She was hired in 1977 and told News 4 she walked away from her career because the environment was toxic, understaffed, and put residents’ lives at risk.

“I left because we couldn’t get any qualified employees, and the city wasn’t willing to help us get employees. They would send us a list of candidates for the job, and the list would be one, maybe two years old,” Ramsey says. “Right now, they have one dispatcher sometimes dispatching for three different districts.”

She served as a supervisor for 20 years. According to Ramsey, the 911 center was so short-staffed it was a challenge to take a lunch or bathroom break. She adds the pay has been unfair and inadequate for both supervisors and current dispatchers.

“I blame the city,” Ramsey says.

In July, St Louis City said the 911 center was overwhelmed with calls during a severe storm. During that time, neighbors complained that long wait times caused 33-year-old Katherine Coen to die after a tree fell on her car.

According to the city, in two hours, more than 1000 calls came in that day. That’s an average of about nine calls per minute.

“Of course, you can’t get answered. You can’t get answered if you don’t have people there to answer the phone.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Safety issued the following statement in response to this story:

DPS is interested in hearing the concerns of all team members, including our dispatchers. We are not in the practice of responding before hearing a direct complaint. We are currently processing numerous applications for Public Safety Dispatcher positions, primarily as a result of a significant pay increase as well as individuals apply to serve. Fully staffing our operation with qualified candidates is a top priority as we work to fully consolidate police, fire, and EMS dispatch. Police and EMS are currently dispatching from the same location, and EMS and Fire have already been crosstrained.

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