SANTA PAULA : Task Force to Study Dispatcher Issue

A Santa Paula task force is expected to meet by next week to study whether the city should hire new 911 dispatchers or contract with the Ventura Police Department.

After a lengthy presentation by Police Chief Walter Adair, the City Council voted Monday to create the committee and appointed council members Laura Espinosa and Don Johnson to work with the Police Department on the issue. The city also plans to seek residents' comments.

The decision came after Adair informed the council in a six-page memo that the department often has to use untrained employees--officers, cadets and even secretaries--to answer 911 calls because of a shortage of trained dispatchers.

Although the population of Santa Paula has grown from 14,000 in 1960 to more than 27,000, the Police Department has continued to employ only four trained dispatchers to answer emergency calls for police, fire and medical assistance.

To allow dispatchers to take lunch, coffee and restroom breaks, a police officer has to be called from patrol duties for at least 10 hours a week, the memo says.

Both Espinosa and Johnson said one of their priorities is to ensure that none of the four Santa Paula dispatchers will lose their jobs, even if Santa Paula contracts with Ventura.

They also want all 911 calls from Santa Paula residents to be answered by dispatchers working in Santa Paula rather than Ventura.

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