Bruce Edwards knows demands

Published 11:01 am Saturday, March 15, 2014

FRANKLIN—After Bruce Edwards retired in 2010 as deputy chief of the Franklin Police Department, he found a sales job. He also discovered such work was not meant for him.

“In some ways, commission sales is more stressful than law enforcement,” he said. “It was not what I wanted to be doing. When the position [of communications manager] was advertised, I applied and here I am.”

At the request of The Tidewater News, Edwards recently made time to be interviewed, but would not address any controversy about his pay. Some people have complained that he’s making too much for a part-time employee. The city granted him $41.21 per hour when he was hired in June 2013, but Edwards can only work 32 hours per week as a retiree. That could earn him up to $68,623.36 per year if he worked all those hours weekly.

“I want to convey it’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for the city and its citizens,” he said. “I think I bring a great deal of experience.”

Edwards served 33 years on the force, working his way up from patrol officer. His father, Robert Edwards, was a deputy for the Southampton County Sheriff; his mother, Wanda, was a nurse. His parents, both deceased, were “very supportive” of his choice to become a policeman.

“I understand the demands of both the officers on the street and the communication side,” he added.

“The Communications Division is the very first contact with police, fire or EMS when an emergency occurs – or a non-emergency, for that matter,” said Edwards. “If we don’t answer the phones, you don’t get the service from that department.”

The qualifications to become a dispatcher are no less rigorous that a patrol officer, he said. Thorough background checks and testing are required. Plus, there’s a lot of security guidelines to know that serve as checks and balances.

Quality employees deserve to be paid accordingly, in Edwards’ opinion. An informal survey showed Franklin dispatchers to be paid the lowest starting salary in the area at $27,019; Suffolk is at $33,503.

As anywhere, there are high expectations for dispatchers. But the manager doesn’t want to train people only to have them leave right away for a greater salary.

“Citizens deserve the very best,” he said.

Edwards’ predecessor was Mickey Futrell, who retired as senior dispatcher on March 1, 2013.

“Mickey did a lot here, and he should have been paid better than he was,” Edwards acknowledged.

In addition to managing his division, there’s also the requirement to maintain or fix computer issues for the entire police department. Further, Edwards seeks out grants that can help his budget. He has to research to first ensure his office qualifies, then there are the write-ups of needs, purpose, budget and prices.

“I enjoy doing it,” said Edwards. “It’s a lot of work, but rewarding when it comes to fruition.”

Recently, he got a verbal confirmation from the 911 Wireless Service Board of a $150,000 grant that will replace some needed equipment. Franklin-Southampton Charities also has some funds to enable security upgrades.

Asked how residents can help a dispatcher when they have to make a call, the first thing is to tell where the emergency is happening. That way the dispatcher can begin sending whoever is needed right away. And should you call 911 by accident, don’t hang up. Just let the operator know you dialed incorrectly. This will save the time in having to trace the call to ensure an emergency has not been overlooked.

Wanda Cotton, who is one of the dispatchers, has been with the force for 22 years. Originally, she came looking for a secretarial position, but the part-time slot in communication was the only one open. She took it and stayed with the job.

“We were downtown then and had only one radio,” said Cotton. “Everything’s totally different.”

When dispatchers such as Cotton aren’t multi-tasking in answering calls and contacting the appropriate agency, they are also logging entries for accuracy and verification. It’s time-consuming and meticulous work, he said. His office is also regularly audited every three years.

“I’m very proud of our staff,” said Edwards.