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San Diego’s 911 Wait Times Improving, But Still Falling Short

Photo credit: San Diego Police Department Recruiting Unit

A police dispatcher sits at his desk in this undated photo.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has announced a marked improvement in 911 wait times over the last four months. But the city is still failing to meet national standards.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Thursday announced a big drop in the average wait time for 911 callers in the city over the last four months.

Statistics from the San Diego Police Department show the average wait time dropped from about 15 seconds in April to about 7 seconds in July. The total number of 911 calls increased over the same period from 48,723 to 57,846.

Despite the short-term improvements in average wait times, the city is still failing to meet the national standard for quick answering of 911 calls. According to that standard, 90 percent of 911 calls should be answered within 10 seconds.

In July, 82 percent of 911 calls in the city met the 10-second standard. The city has only posted four months of 911 data online, and July had the highest percentage of calls that were answered within 10 seconds. In all of 2015, the number was 81 percent, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Faulconer acknowledged the 911 response times are not yet what they should be, saying in a statement: "This is a positive step forward, but there's more room for improvement so we'll continue to make changes as needed to ensure that San Diego remains one of the nation's safest big cities."

The mayor's statement announcing the decrease in wait times attributes the improvements since April to "operational changes and a new compensation package for 911 police dispatchers." That new compensation package includes a 5 percent raise given to dispatchers in July. Four more raises are set to go into effect over the next three years.

The mayor's office did not respond to a list of questions about the 911 statistics, including the wait times for the months prior to April. The police department said numbers prior to April were not readily available, but could be released through a California Public Records Act request.

Mike Zucchet, general manager of the Municipal Employees Association, which represents dispatchers, said the raises and changes in management have given dispatchers hope that things will get better.

"Even though the work conditions are still really hard right now, and even though they're still dramatically understaffed, and even though they are still subject to mandatory overtime, at least they know that there's this huge commitment to fix it," he said.

Zucchet added that because it takes six months to a year for a new hire to become fully able to do the job without supervision, it takes a long time to feel the effects of filling vacancies.

San Diego Police Capt. Jerry Hara was installed as the new head of police communications in May, replacing Gerardo Gurrola. Hara said there are still 14 vacant 911 dispatcher positions at the San Diego Police Department — roughly a tenth of the total 134 budgeted positions. Since his transition, two dispatchers have retired and one trainee did not complete the training, but none has left the department for other cities or other departments in San Diego.

"There are a few dispatchers who were in the process of leaving for other agencies or transferring, but they have now decided to stay with SDPD's Comm Center following the decision to implement pay increases," Hara said in an email. "This helps us as we continue hiring to reach the full staffing level that is budgeted."

The city's long 911 wait times were put under the spotlight in April after the death of a baby boy who was bitten by the family dog. The parents called 911 twice but hung up after waiting about 30 seconds each time.

San Diego has struggled to compete with surrounding cities and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department for qualified 911 dispatchers after years of budget cuts during the recession. It ranked second to last in a statewide survey of compensation packages completed in November 2015, the mayor's office said, though that ranking was expected to improve after the scheduled pay raises.

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Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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