Dallas Police Department officials announced Wednesday that they've solved many of the issues that led to soaring 911 wait times during a crisis that stretched from last fall into the spring. Staffing levels have been increased, facilities have been improved and police officers, called into emergency duty taking 911 calls, are back on the streets, said David Pughes, Dallas first assistant police chief, on Wednesday.
From October 2016 to March 2017, call response times at city's 911 call center ballooned to 22 seconds per call as the city struggled with attrition and the inability to hire new call takers. Now, those times are back under two seconds per call, Pughes said, and right where the department wants them.
At the height of the crisis, the city was down to just 60 call takers and 12 trainees. By September, Pughes told the Dallas City Council, there were 67 full-time call-takers working in Dallas' underground 911, along with 43 trainees working toward full-time status. Twenty-six desk-duty cops were helping out as well. By Dec. 12, Pughes said, all cops currently taking 911 calls (there were 22 left as of Wednesday) will transition back to police duty as the apprentice call-takers complete their on-the-job training.
The city has been able to increase staffing thanks to steps taken by DPD this spring in order to streamline the hiring process for 911 workers. The department made the civil service exam required of potential call-takers available all the time rather than on a rolling basis, cut the time required for a city background check by three weeks and cut the time applicants are required to wait before reapplying for a job they didn't get from 30 days to 15 days. Applicants are also no longer required to take a polygraph test, something that added as much as 30 days to the application process.
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Pughes said the changes have allowed Dallas to compete for employees with other agencies in other cities because DPD isn't losing as many applicants during the lengthy process between application and hiring.
While the staffing numbers from this year are encouraging — 2017 will be the first year in the last four in which the city sees a net gain in the number of 911 call-takers — potential attrition caused by the stressful nature of taking 911 calls and the relatively low pay call-takers receive remains a risk. In order to maintain staffing levels, Pughes said, DPD has improved the call center — outfitting the city hall basement in which it resides with improved lighting, an air purification system and an improved kitchen — and will double-fill 20 call-taker positions. Hiring as many as 40 people for those 20 spots will keep the department ahead of the inevitable attrition rate, Pughes said.
The City Council praised Pughes and DPD for bringing 911 operations back up to par during the last six months.
"You all have done a great job. You've taken a situation that we had a problem with, and it's being corrected," Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said. "I encourage us not to look in the past, but to look forward. ... Things are getting a lot better, and I just want to compliment all of you."