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Death Of Mira Mesa Baby Highlights 911 Wait Time Problem

After the family dog bit the 3-day-old boy, his father called 911 twice but hung up both times when no dispatcher picked up. He waited 28 seconds the first time, then 34 seconds — far above national standards.

Death Of Mira Mesa Baby Highlights 911 Wait Time Problem


Mike Zucchet, general manager, Municipal Employees Association

Shelly Zimmerman, police chief, San Diego Police Department


The death of a 3-day-old baby in Mira Mesa last week is highlighting 911 call wait time problems and understaffing among San Diego Police Department dispatchers.

San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl did not return calls Tuesday for comment from KPBS, but he told The San Diego Union-Tribune that after the boy was bit on the head by the family dog, the father called 911 and waited 28 seconds to speak to a dispatcher. He hung up, called again and waited 34 seconds, then hung up again.

The parents then drove the baby, Sebastian Caban, to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Twelve dispatchers were working when the family called, Wahl told the newspaper. In the half hour when the family called, the dispatch center received 73 emergency calls.

The national standard for 911 calls is to answer 90 percent within 10 seconds, but many cities fall behind that goal. Madison, Wisconsin, failed to meet that standard for more than a year, with thousands of callers waiting more than 40 seconds to speak to someone after calling 911. Minneapolis hired more dispatchers after a report said callers sometimes had to wait more than a minute.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer said on Tuesday that the average wait time for 911 emergency calls is 13 seconds.

RELATED: Authorities Release Name Of Baby Fatally Attacked By Family Dog

Earlier this month, Faulconer told the City Council that the city has 140 dispatchers who receive 1.4 million calls a year, more than half of which are 911 calls.

"They are experts at multitasking, they are experts at responding to pressure-filled situations, and they do it day in and day out," Faulconer said while making a proclamation for National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

Under the fiscal 2016 budget, 134 dispatcher positions are listed for the department. Their pay ranges from $37,440 to $45,178 and has not increased since 2010.

Faulconer spokesman Craig Gustafson said the city will soon start new dispatchers at 10.15 percent higher base pay. Most current dispatchers have been given exceptional merit awards of $1,000, he said.

Dispatchers also signed a new contract with the city last year that will give them raises in 2018.

"For years dispatch positions were included in the budget but not funded," Gustafson said in an email. He said Faulconer "has and continues to fully fund" all dispatch positions, which means the budget provides the funds to hire for those jobs.

The Police Department currently has 19 dispatcher vacancies, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Gustafson said the city is now recruiting year-round for dispatchers, which it wasn’t before. In the meantime, the Police Department is filling vacancies with a policy of mandatory overtime for dispatchers and "having sworn officers who were former dispatchers assist at the call center when necessary," he said.

The city is also training officers who were not former dispatchers to assist at the call center on an overtime basis when necessary, he said.


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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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