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Staff Shortages Plague County Jail, 911 Dispatch

Issue Date: February 9, 2022

Staff shortages continue to plague agencies that provide law enforcement and emergency response services in Marinette County. Jail Administrator Robert Majewski reported at the Public Services Committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 8 that staff at the jail is five fewer than it should be. That, he said, is 19 percent of the staff. On March 1, another staff member is leaving,which will bring the staff down to 22 percent of what it should be. That means remaining jail staff work longer hours, and are sometimes unable to take vacations and scheduled time off.

Of the most recent hires, two were in training and one of them quit to take a job at Johnson Controls.

Applications for civilian jailer positions are being accepted until Thursday, Feb. 17, for the next round of hiring.

For now, jail population is down somewhat, to an average of 113 inmates per day, which helps a little.

There were 11 out on Sober Link and 5 on Huber Law with electronic monitoring. One on Sober Link had violated rules and had that privilege revoked.

Majewski said transporting inmates from state prison for in-person court appearances is time consuming, and something they are hoping to work on. He hopes rules for virtual appearances will be expanded.

County Administrator John LeFebvre said District Attorney DeShea Morrow and the Circuit Court judges are working on a Diversion Coordinator position. If all goes well, this person would be located in the District Attorney's office and work closely with the District Attorney to keep jail population down.

Majewski said they have 12 applicants for jailer positions and will interview everybody. "Hopefully, three will stick," he commented. He said out of the last batch of 12 applicants eight had said they would interview, but only five of them showed up. From the interviews they hired two who were qualified, and one of them already left. He said they would like applicants with experience, "...but right now, we'll take what we can get."

Communication Director Kirsten Burmeister, who runs the 911-Emergency Dispatch for Marinette County, said her department also has a staff shortage. She said since 2009 they have been authorized to have 14 full time dispatchers plus herself. "We have not been fully staffed since I started in 2005," she said. Now they have 11 staff members plus one who is deployed. They advertised for help and had five applicants for the two positions they wanted to fill. Two of them were qualified, but one did not call back when she contacted them for an interview.

Burmeister said Marinette County's 911 dispatchers cannot take vacations unless someone steps up to take their shift. Other counties are facing the same problems, and in many of them the problems are even worse.

Burmeister said it is hard to compete with jobs in the private sector, and potential workers today put more value than they used to on personal time off. She said work in Emergency Dispatch is fast paced and requires multi-tasking. She prefers people with three years experience in a clerical field, and prefer EMS or medical backgrounds, but for hiring purposes, even employment at McDonald's is considered experience in a fast-paced environment.

Supervisor Gail Wanek, a member of the Public Services Committee, said her daughter had worked in the 911 Dispatch Center for a time. She noted the dispatchers must be able to read maps, type, use a computer and more and be able to field a number of calls at the same time if necessary.

Burmeister noted the Marinette County Emergency Dispatch had 4,929 calls in January, 1,065 of them for emergencies. There were three emergency texts to 911.

There are currently 14 tele-communicator or dispatcher positions at the Marinette County Dispatch/911 Center. These dispatchers are responsible for monitoring radio traffic on 17 radio frequencies, which includes 18 fire departments, 12 rescue squads, and 8 law enforcement agencies. Marinette Dispatch is also a backup facility for Oconto Dispatch and has the capabilities to page and communicate with all responders for Oconto County. Marinette Dispatch is also a National Weather Service Alert (NAWAS) relay point for Oconto and Florence Counties. When the dispatchers are at work monitoring the frequencies they are also multi-tasking by answering E911 lines, cell 911 phones, and administrative telephone calls. The dispatchers are also responsible for record entry into the state and national computer system for warrants, injunctions, stolen articles, vehicles, missing persons and more.

The dispatcher must determine the level of priority for a call. A high priority would be violent crimes, crimes in progress, house fires, or any call that would put life or property in immediate danger. Low priority would be barking dogs or calls where there is no threat to life or property.

Wanek said her daughter's previous work experience was in customer service, and it was hard to adjust to having to cut callers off when a more urgent call came in.

Sheriff Jerry Sauve suggested a mom with half a dozen kids might be good at the job, "... she's used to multi-tasking and listening to everybody at once."

Medical Examiner Kalynn Van Ermen reported there were 11 suicides in Marinette County during the past year, four of them in the City of Marinette, and all males. There were also eight deaths from overdoses, also all males, and five were from fentynal.

Sauve presented a report on the new floor being installed in the jail kitchen, with most of the work being done by employees of the county's Facilities and Parks and Forestry Departments. Sauve said the 20-year floor had developed cracks and unsanitary conditions that drew a citation from the state jail inspector, but now it is looking really good.

The work had required removing all stoves, sinks, coolers, etc. and now they are being re-installed. Storing the appliances and cold food was a problem, and they even brought in a beer cooler to help store cold food.

While work was in progress inmates had cold breakfasts and suppers and one hot meal, delivered at noon from Green Bay by Aramark , the food service contractor. Sauve had high praise for the way they stepped up, and said there were very few complaints from inmates about the food.

He also had high praise for Facilities Director Marty Keyport and Parks/Forestry staff and management for their expertise and cooperation in the floor project.

The committee voted without dissent to recommend that County Board approve renewing the inmate healthcare contract with Advanced Corrections Healthcare (ACH) for term January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022 at an annual cost of $252,397.02, subject to Corporation Counsel's approval, and approved financial reports and transfers as presented.

Committee members present for the meeting were Supervisors Glenn Broderick, Tom Buelteman, Chris Gromala, Ken Keller (chair), George Kloppenburg and Gail Wanek. Others attending were Deputy County Clerk Bobbie Borkowski, Lefebvre, Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, Sheriff Sauve, Jail Administrator Bob Majewski , Medical Examiner Kalynn Van Ermen, Child Support Director Brian Barrette, Communications Director Kirsten Burmeister, Lt. Chris Lesperance of the Sheriff's Department, County Board Chair John Guarisco and members of the media.


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