The San Diego City Council Tuesday approved a 15 percent raise for police dispatchers in an effort to beef up staffing in the city police department's overworked Communications Department, which has been plagued by slow responses to 911 calls.
The pay hikes will come in three 5 percent increments -- the first being Friday with the start of the new fiscal year.
While city officials have been aware of problems in the SDPD's dispatch center, the problem only entered the public spotlight in April when a couple gave up calling 911 after several tries and drove their newborn to the hospital after he was bitten by a dog. The baby later died.
Last fall, two callers who had intruders in their homes in separate incidents each spent several minutes on hold.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald said the staffing problem stemmed from recession-era "draconian cuts" the city had to make, including a 6 percent across-the-board reduction in pay.
She said city officials have been trying to dig themselves out of that hole in recent years, and that few employees are more important than 911 dispatchers.
"You are the first line of defense for people who are having their absolute worst day," Emerald said.
"Every sort of emergency there is -- and you're professional, you get information, you get it to the right agency to help get first responders out there, and you save lives," Emerald said. "You make a difference and we owe you a great debt of gratitude."
The raises are on top of a pair of 3.3-percent pay increases granted in upcoming fiscal years to members of the Municipal Employees Association, which represents police dispatchers. As part of that separate deal, dispatchers were one of several job categories for which an additional 5 percent bonus was specified to address recruiting and retention issues.
Along with the raises, the SDPD has altered employee schedules in the center to make more dispatchers available to handle the 1.3 million calls received annually and changed management, city officials said.
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said 911 calls were answered, on average, in 8 seconds last week.
The deal passed 7-1, with Councilman Scott Sherman dissenting and Councilman David Alvarez absent.