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San Diego Mayor Promises More Money For 911 Dispatchers

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer addresses a news conference at San Diego police headquarters, May 3, 2016.
Andrew Bowen
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer addresses a news conference at San Diego police headquarters, May 3, 2016.

San Diego Mayor Promises More Money For 911 Dispatchers
San Diego's problem with long wait times for 911 callers has been under intense media scrutiny. Mayor Kevin Faulconer is now promising more money for 911 dispatchers in his revised budget.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Tuesday announced plans to address the city's problem with long 911 call wait times, promising more money for 911 dispatchers in the coming fiscal year.

The city would soon offer "additional financial incentives" to attract and retain dispatchers, Faulconer said. The details of those incentives are to be public in the coming weeks along with the mayor's revised budget for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1. Faulconer said he would also assign more personnel to the call center to assist 911 dispatchers, and that the city's performance and analytics team would review the 911 call center in an effort to make it more efficient.

The dispatcher shortage dates back to the Great Recession, when the city was forced to cut positions from its budget. For years, dispatchers have been working mandatory overtime to keep the phone lines open, and many have left for better pay and benefits in neighboring cities or the county Sheriff's Department.

"Just as it took time for these issues to develop, it's going to take time to completely fix the problem," Faulconer said. "But I am determined to move our dispatch operations, as we have been doing, in the right direction."

Mike Zucchet, head of the union that represents city dispatchers, said Faulconer had taken the dispatcher shortage more seriously than previous mayors.

Zucchet also told KPBS Midday Edition last week that the shortage was an unintended consequence of the voter-approved Proposition B, which eliminated guaranteed pensions for city employees. Faulconer supported that measure, and said Tuesday he still thinks it was necessary to get the city's finances in order.

The city's 911 wait times have been under heightened scrutiny after an infant in Mira Mesa was bitten by the family dog and died. The boy's parents called 911 twice but hung up after they waited on hold for about 30 seconds both times. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday that about 81 percent of 911 calls in San Diego are answered within 10 seconds, falling short of the national standard of 90 percent.

The Voice of San Diego also recently reported the alarming stories of two San Diego residents who called 911 and waited on hold for several minutes. One woman was on hold while an intruder burgled her home. The suspect had already fled by the time her call was answered.

Emergency call wait times can be volatile because when a car accident or shooting occurs, several people call to report the same crime. San Diego has also seen a rise in accidental calls and non-emergency calls to 911.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said once her department manages to fill the roughly 20 dispatcher vacancies, it would re-evaluate its staffing to determine whether it needed more dispatcher positions in future budgets.