SACRAMENTO, Calif. — America’s labor shortage has impacted nearly every industry, including the California Highway Patrol, which is currently looking to hire about 200 public safety dispatchers and operators.
The agency has a 26% vacancy that started during the pandemic when many employees retired or left to pursue other careers.
The lack of staff leads to more work falling on the shoulders of the employees who stayed on. Employees like Kelly Banegas, who has worked at CHP for the last 16 years, including the last six as a public safety dispatch supervisor.
“I love my job — I get to do so many different things. Every day is different, but with that, the take home is we’re helping people every day and that’s the best part of it,” Banegas said.
Banegas said she was looking for a more stable job in 2007. While she visiting the California State Fair in Sacramento, a CHP recruiter handed her an application, and she applied.
When Banegas came in for a job interview, she took part in a sit-in, where she got to shadow a dispatcher for a few hours.
“I was sold immediately,” Banegas said. “The dispatcher looked like she had 8 arms. She was moving around doing all these different things and it was very exciting. And even after doing this for 16 years, it’s still just as exciting.”
CHP public safety dispatchers answer 911 calls and calls for other law enforcement agencies. The job comes with a lot of work and requires people to be calm under pressure.
“The job is stressful — that’s the first thing that everyone says and that’s absolutely true but the takeaways from it outweigh that and we teach ways to kind of overcome that,” Banegas said.
One of the people who teaches how to deal with a stressful situation is Jorge Salinas, who is a public safety dispatch instructor at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento.
“When somebody dials 911, you have to think about how it’s one of the worst days of their lives, so when we take the call it is our duty to make sure that that person feels safe,” Salinas said. “It’s very rewarding because I’m also bilingual and I’m a Spanish speaker, so it feels really good to know that I have the ability to help somebody who may have a language barrier.”
Salinas believes people who work in the service industry would be well-suited for a career switch to CHP dispatchers.
“A coffee shop barista, for example. They’d be perfect for this position because they’re multitasking, they’re moving around, they’re getting people’s coffee — that morning rush hour — working well under pressure, and they’re positive, they’re always giving that smile. That’s the type of person that we need,” Salinas said.
Salinas joined CHP when he was 21. He’s been with the agency for over two decades and says he’s been able to accomplish a lot of things in his life thanks to the opportunities he’s had with CHP.
“You have the luxury with this job to decide how much money you want to make. If you want to buy a house, buy a boat, save up for your kids’ college fund — this job will allow you to make those things happen,” he notes.
According to Salinas, CHP receives 6.7 million calls a year, 4.5 million are from people who dial 911. The rest of the calls are a combination of law enforcement agencies.
CHP has 24 communications centers throughout California. Salinas explains one benefit of working for the agency is being able to transfer to a different location while keeping the same salary.
For more information on the requirements to become a public safety dispatcher or operator, click here.
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