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DPD Fires One Operator, Suspends Another After Botched 911 Response. Also: That Call Center is Way Understaffed

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In the days after Deanna Cook was murdered while on the phone with 911, only to be found two days later by family members, DPD admitted that, yeah, things could have been handled a bit better. For starters, the dispatcher could have better communicated the severity of the situation with responding officers, who left Cook's home when their knocks went unanswered. The department responded by creating a new call classification designed to tell officers when a situation involves the threat of imminent bodily harm or death.

Somehow, that response wasn't very satisfying.

DPD announced last night that it had completed its review of the incident and has meted out punishment. Tonyita Hopkins, the call-taker who was on the phone with Cook, was suspended for 10 days and was reassigned to another work group. Hopkins had taken proper steps to find the caller's location but failed to enter critical information into a call sheet. Her supervisor is also being investigated for failing to be present to assist Hopkins.

Angelia Herod-Graham, who took a call from Cook's family two days after the murder, was fired. When the family attempted to report that Cook was missing, Herod-Graham told them to contact the jail and local hospitals and didn't immediately enter a call sheet. As a result, the family had to break into Cook's home, where they found her body in the bath tub. Herod-Graham had been disciplined twice before, once for failing to report a 911 call about a police officer being assaulted and once for disconnecting a woman who called to report a gun-wielding man outside her house.

The department also filled in details about broader changes to how it runs its 911 operations. Seems that DPD,s communications section has been operating at about two-thirds capacity, with just 65.5 of 90 full-time positions filled. (Factoring in overtime brings staffing levels to the equivalent of 83.5 full-time employees). To ease the shortage, Police Chief David Brown has temporarily assigned 24 uniformed officers to help out, though the department wants to be clear: the staffing shortage has nothing at all to do with the budget. Per DPD's release:

The City of Dallas's budget has provided adequate staffing and overtime in the 911 Call Center to meet operational needs. At no time, have vacancies not been filled due to budget constraints. However, the Department recognizes there have been challenges in hiring to meet attrition, which has increased the use of overtime to maintain appropriate staffing. This is one of the issues being analyzed as to causes, impacts, and solutions. The review also covers technology, procedures, organizational structure, etc. As this review is conducted, changes which can have an immediate positive impact will be implemented as appropriate.

Other changes include the creation of an "interdepartmental working group" to review 911 center staffing and operations, a doubling of the number of lines that play a recorded message, more training for call takers and dispatchers, and a decrease in the time of the recording telling people not to hang up from 30 to 15 seconds. Still no specifics on that $4.4 million.

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