The nationwide labor shortage in the law enforcement field has had numerous ramifications in Lavallette, most notably a reduction in the number of applicants for seasonal officer positions from a historical mean of about 60 to less than 10 last summer. But the borough has also seen mounting overtime costs as regular, full-time officers have been tasked with dispatch and desk duties since there have not been enough employees to fill the positions.
Officials said an ongoing reorganization of the department, which began last month with the appointment of new Chief Christian LaCicero, will include a stabilization of dispatching. Lavallette maintains an in-house dispatching staff, an increasingly rare service in small towns, many of which have contracted out dispatch to the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department. But for Lavallette, maintaining the in-house dispatch carries a great deal of importance since the employees are familiar with the borough and its residents, ensure there are no mix-ups between barrier island communities, and maintain community support by providing extra services such as daily welfare check calls to elderly residents.
The department utilized 313 overtime hours in September, more than doubling the hours from 2021 by 157. In October, there were 202 overtime hours expended, an increase of 87 hours from the previous year. Officials say dispatch and desk duties are being addressed.
“The reorganization of the department is taking hold, and we’re going step-by-step,” said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone.
Experienced dispatchers are being hired part-time now, she said, an adjustment that will help carry the borough toward a permanent staffing level. A major component of attracting new dispatchers is a salary increase which will be proposed at a future borough council meeting and is expected to be adopted.
“What we’re proposing is to have a three-step hiring salary for a public safety telecommunication officer,” said Filippone, using the official civil service title for dispatchers.
The current starting salary for dispatchers in Lavallette is minimum wage, which will be set at $14.13 per hour in New Jersey in 2023. Though final numbers have not yet been determined, officials envision a step increase for those with 10 years of experience and another step for those with 15 years of experience.
“We’re already doing this for officers, and this would apply to dispatchers,” said Filippone. “Paying a person $20 or $25 per hour would be dramatically less than paying hundreds of hours of overtime.”
Of the 303 hours spent on overtime in September, about 200 were to cover shortages in dispatch. In October, 72 hours of overtime were utilized for dispatch. The remainder of the overtime was required due to a number of reasons, from covering employee vacations to handling more time-consuming investigations.
“We have two full-timers right now, and if we can pick up two experienced part-timers, it would helpful,” said Filippone. “It’s going to take some time, but we’re moving in the right direction.”