City council agrees to spend more on dispatchers

Robert Smith

The interim chief of the Pawhuska Police Department last week recommended spending marginally more on dispatchers, to make the city’s dispatcher wages competitive with what Osage County pays.

Interim Chief Lorrie Hennesy commented during a City Council budget hearing. She said the department would get along just fine with 10 police officers, rather than increasing the number of field officers to 12. Instead, the department would benefit more from being able to compete to hire and retain qualified dispatchers to handle sensitive communications, Hennesy said.

The chief told city councilors that Osage County pays dispatchers more at every level, from starting pay to supervisory pay. Hennesy emphasized the importance of being able to hire personnel for dispatcher jobs who can handle the stress of the work and provide effective support to officers engaged in handling calls. She clarified that she wasn’t looking to hire anyone away from the county — just to be able to compete for what she needs.

“What I’m saying is, we’ve got to get competitive with (the) county,” Hennesy said. Interim City Manager Tonya Bright and the City Council agreed to earmark an additional $10,800 in the 20-21 fiscal year budget for dispatcher wages.

Hennesy told the councilors that police department call volumes have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic disturbance calls, in particular, have increased, she said. Hennesy also talked about her desire for the city police department to be able to use a holding cell for 12-hour detention purposes. She commented that a holding cell at the department would allow city officers to begin executing arrest warrants in connection with some $200,000 of uncollected fine money that is owed to Pawhuska.

The interim chief additionally remarked that morale within the department seems good, at present, with officers desiring to stay.

“Everybody seems happy. No one wants to leave,” she said. Hennesy, who originally joined the PPD as a school resource officer, is in her second stint as an interim chief. The city has experienced instability in the police chief position, going through two full-time chiefs since Scott Laird stepped down from the position in October 2018. Both Nick Silva and Nick Mahoney had short tenures as police chief, and their departures were sources of local controversy.