Indianapolis 911 Has a Problem

They can’t get people to answer 911 calls. Marion County 911 hold times increasing as dispatcher salaries remain low.

The staffing levels at the 911 center are down 33 percent as workers leave the center at an alarming rate.

Officials believe the center has been seeing the turnover because dispatchers in Marion County are paid significantly lower than surrounding counties — and much less than other employees in the county.

But though this has been a problem for a while, the solution seems to elude politicians. (You know, pay the going-rate.)

Average hold times have gone from 12 seconds on average, to 27 seconds. Longest hold time was over 6 minutes. ON hold. They can’t send help before someone answers the call.

The difference in salary between one county and the next is staggering. As much as a 35% difference. The sheriff gets that you can’t pay people substandard wages and expect to keep them in a tough job, but he doesn’t control the budget.

Calling 911 is a fine thing to do. They can send all kinds of help your way. But they can’t send help before they talk to you, and they can’t talk to you if no one is willing to hold the job. So you should probably consider what you will do will your waiting for someone to answer the phone.

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911 Response Times for 10 Large US Cities

The Best and Worst Police Response Times of 10 Major U.S. Cities

1. Chicago (kind of…)
Chicago has a reputation for being a high crime city, however, they have been able to keep police response times for high priority calls down to 3.46 minutes. We were unable to find their average response time across all 911 calls, so we hesitate to praise Chicago as the most responsive city overall.

Seattle gets the real #1 spot with an average response of 5.7 minutes. Denver pulls down the #10 slot with an average response of just under 13 minutes (just behind Detroit).

So what will you do for those minutes?

Do Public Officials Care About Public Safety?

A series of recent posts on how 911 centers around the country are struggling to keep staff. It is a hard job – you will hear bad things happen on the other end of the phone. And in general, you will be talking to people on one of the worst days in their lives. In private industry, as a first step look, people would look at increasing wages. And eventually, cities and counties are coming to that conclusion.

But the job is harder than it needs to be. These Technology Startups Help First Responders And Shorten 911 Response Times.

This is Forbes, so of course the emphasis is on business, but the one thing that stood out, and what led to the title of this post, doesn’t have anything to do with technology or business. Or not directly anyway.

It isn’t just a dispatch shortage that’s affecting 911 systems, governments have also contributed to the lack of updated 911 systems. In March 2018, the Rhode Island legislature diverted its 68% of its 911 funds to balance the state budget. The Rhode Island 911 system currently lacks a global positioning system (GPS), the current system can only determine the caller’s location within three-quarters of a square mile; emergency medical dispatch and medical translation.

The FCC accused Rhode Island effectively stealing the E-911 fees. Rhode Island collects about $15 million in E-911 fees. Only about 5 and a half million go to 911 systems. You aren’t going to get much in the way of upgrades for that.

So back to my original question. Do public officials care about public safety? (And Rhode Island isn’t the only state playing games with E-911 funds.) If they did, they would not trot out the worn excuse, “our system can’t handle these new-fangled cellular telephones.” An excuse which I am still reading in stories about poor 911 response times in 2018.

The original link at top is mostly a listing of startups in the “Public Safety Industry.” There is a start up from Israel that has gotten quite a lot of press in the past month, and this article seems to want to expand the coverage to more players in that field. There are a lot.

What If You Called 911 And No One Answered?

It is happening more and more around the country, as cities find it hard to hire people for 911 centers. Reaching 911 in Indianapolis can take minutes, not seconds.

A mother calls 911 when her child collapses and starts to have a seizure. She gets a recorded message telling her not to hang up, her call will be answered.

“I just sat on hold waiting for someone to help me,” O’Conner said. “It seemed like an eternity. I was terrified. I thought I was going to lose my daughter.”

She waited 6 minutes for her call to be answered.

A lot of truly bad things can happen in 6 minutes. You should have a plan as to what to do. Whether that is CPR or defend yourself from a violent attack.

Politicians are shocked that people won’t work hard jobs for pittance, just because that’s what the city if offering. (911 dispatchers can earn more in neighboring counties than they can in Indianapolis.)

911 Staffing Problems Means It Takes Longer to Answer Your Call

This time the problem is in Colorado. When Seconds Count, 911 Calls Are Taking Minutes to Answer in Colorado Springs.

In an emergency, [Renee Henshaw, the city’s public safety communications manager] said she understands that 20 seconds, let alone a minute or two, can feel like an eternity, but she argues that the 911 center is doing the best it can with its limited staff. Despite hiring year-round, the center is down eight call-takers and eight dispatchers, she said.

Why? Because taking 911 calls is a tough business. (As one character said on a TV show, the people calling 911 are having the worst day of their life.)

To be fair, 911 operator is a tough sell. Henshaw is upfront about the list of cons, which read like a bad job description — constant stress, shift work, secondhand trauma, multitasking, and a certain aptitude for technology.

Employees have previously described taking stressful calls relating to suicide, unresponsive children, fatal accidents and even mass shootings. In 2016, Brianna Ragsdale recounted getting the call as admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Dear was gunning people down in the parking lot.

And while I agree that such a job is not for everyone, better pay might help retention.

Budget Matters

If you cut the budget for police by 300,000 dollars, something will be impacted. Chief deputy Smith addresses staff shortage.

Apparently in this case, staffing cuts resulted in longer 911 response times.

The release further stated, “In 2015, the department had 23 fully sworn deputies responsible for answering 911 calls, serving protective orders and mental hygiene orders. We also had two civilian process servers responsible for funeral escorts, jury summons, civil papers and litter complaints. The county also employed 10 civilian bailiffs that were responsible for door security for both buildings, holding cell and security for all three courts,” he stated.

After the $300K cut, number of officers is down, bailiffs were reduced, so 3 officers are assigned to the court, where they weren’t before, etc. Only 12 deputies are assigned to answer 911 calls.

This is not taking into account deputies being on scheduled off days, sick days, vacation or being injured at work.

This article doesn’t say, but it would be interesting to know why the 300,000 dollar cut, and what else the county is spending money on outside the realm of “public safety.” Or if the county is just strapped for cash. (Mingo County is rural.)

But then I recently had a post on the UK doing something similar with public safety.

17 Hours For Response to a 911 Call Does Seem Excessive

Granted, it wasn’t a priority 1 call – the bad guy had been and gone. New Orleans East crime victim upset over NOPD response time.

Home surveillance cameras captured video of a man at first pulling on Thomas’ car door handle. He is then seen creeping around the home with a gun in his hand.

“So, he forces that fence open and he’s looking around, and cars are passing by now because it’s 5 a.m.,” says Thomas.

She says the gunman eventually used a wrench to pry open the back door of her home. She says he spent nearly 15 minutes inside as she was sleeping right upstairs. Thomas said the gunman got away with money and her car keys.

So when they called 911, they were reporting a burglar and a car theft, not a home invasion. (And cameras but no alarm?)

So when NOPD asks for a more money (and more taxes) is she going to think that is a good idea? Then again, I wonder what the city is spending money on that doesn’t fall under the heading of “public safety.”

Calling 911 is a fine thing to do, but help won’t arrive immediately, though if you are in danger (and can call 911 BEFORE bad things happen) they will probably get there faster than 17 hours. Though you might want to consider what you will do for the 5 or 10 minutes that it will take for help to arrive. Of course if you live in the country, like I do, you might have to wait much longer than 10 minutes.