Key West Police Chief Brandenburg talks about the need for dispatchers, school safety and Biden’s executive order

When it comes to running the Key West Police Department, being flexible is an incredibly important component.

Take for instance, the recruitment challenges felt in businesses throughout the community as well as the country.

In the Key West Police Department, dispatchers are particularly needed for the 911 center.

It’s tough everywhere. Broward County at last count needed 92 dispatchers – they literally had more than 90 positions open. Reports have shown as a result, some 911 calls went answered in Broward County. 

Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg said, “We normally have 13 dispatcher positions that we try and keep filled. That way we can fill three seats, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with those 13 individuals. At one point I was down to four or five fully certified dispatchers. It’s very easy math. You can’t fill three seats, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with only four people. It’s just impossible.”

KWPD did some rearranging to keep the communication center operational. Some officers were fully certified in dispatching, so they were taken off the road and put back into dispatch.

Staffing then had to be readjusted to make sure officers were on the road. A third of the detectives were put back on the road, so they’re answering service calls instead of investigating crime.

A third of the motorcycle units were either put back on the road or on dispatch.

Chief Brandenburg said, “There are obviously some effects with that. It does take us longer to investigate crimes. People do get frustrated. The number of traffic complaints I’ve gotten since my motorcycle unit is down to just a few officers now has probably doubled or tripled. We certainly are feeling the effects of it, but at the same time, we’re continuing to answer those calls and maintain a level of service.”

Stapleford said, “Well, you’re to be commended. That’s quite an administrative headache, but it sounds like you’ve juggled it so far, but there certainly is a need to bring more talented people into the dispatch center.”

It takes a year to a year and a half to get someone fully certified, fully comfortable and fully signed off to answer the 911 calls safely and accurately every day and every night in Key West.

It’s not a one-person, one-day fix. It will take time.

At the moment, there are six or seven fully certified dispatchers in the 911 center as well as some police officers. Six more are currently in various levels of training. Hopefully at least two of them will complete their training in the near future.

Chief Brandenburg said, “That’s another challenge I have. I only have so many people to train in there. So I can hire all the people I want, but if I only have four fully certified people, I can only train four at a time.”

As dispatchers are being trained, they can work parts of the center by themselves. KWPD also created a condense training for police officers since they already have a base knowledge of the area.

Chief Brandenburg said, “A real juggling act, but so far we’ve managed to do it.”

The dispatcher certification is overseen by the Florida Department of Health. There are state exams that dispatchers have to pass to continue their employment.

Dispatchers not only answer phones, but they also need to coordinate sending out police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel. They also need to be certified in how to give instructions for CPR or the Heimlich maneuver to talk someone through it on the phone if need be.

Chief Brandenburg explained, “While the first responders are responding to the scene, the dispatcher’s on the phone giving very specific instructions on how to treat the person that’s injured in front of the person that’s calling. So, yeah, very stressful, high-energy job.”

For more information about the dispatcher job, pick up an application at City Hall or contact the recruiter Danyle Gray at dgray@cityofkeywest/ or 305-809-1087.

With the most recent school shooting in Uvalde, TX., safety in schools is a top priority.

Chief Brandenburg said, “There is never anything that you can report that is unnecessary when it comes to school safety. If you see something that’s odd or you see odd behavior or something just doesn’t feel right, feel free to report it and you can do that calling into the police department. The kids all have this text tip or this text line. You can contact the sheriff’s office. There are so many ways to report that and you want to report it right away. Don’t try and post it on social media. We don’t monitor our social media 24 hours a day, so please don’t send in a tip that way.”

Nationwide, President Joe Biden officially signed an executive order yesterday as a police reform act. 

The executive order had been announced a long time ago, but Biden waited to sign it yesterday because it was the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

Under this order, law enforcement will now be required to intervene and stop if they see the use of excessive force from one of their colleagues on the scene.

Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg said, “The major points of that that I saw was the use of body cameras, which we already do here at the Key West Police Department. We have body cameras. We have in-car cameras and we currently have cameras on our tasers. So I always tell everybody if you’re on all three cameras at the same time, you should start to comply because you’re having a rough day.”

Another regulation from the executive order deals with no-knock warrants.

Chief Brandenburg said, “I don’t remember the last time we did a no-knock warrant. We always knock and announce our presence before we execute a search warrant, so we’re already in compliance with that.”

The KWPD does not train officers in vascular neck restraint, another component to the executive order.

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM said, “I must commend you, you do a fantastic job with interacting with the community and also keeping the community safe and I want to commend you and your department for that. It’s not an easy job to do. There’s a lot of visitors coming here.”