The Dallas Police Department needs to hire more civilian employees in its communications division, divert more non-emergency 911 calls to other agencies and amend some of its dispatch procedures so the call center can operate more efficiently, according to the consulting firm KPMG.
Continued staffing shortages at DPD caused by non-competitive pay and attrition have led to falling performance levels at the 911 call center, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this. When the center is fully staffed, 99 people are taking calls. Their goal is to be able to answer 90% of the calls in 10 seconds or less.
But the department has had trouble recruiting and retaining employees in the communications division. Additionally, 37 people in the division have either tested positive for COVID-19 or been told to quarantine by their doctors. Because of this, last month the department only had 69 call takers and just over 60% of their calls were being answered in 10 seconds or less, Jon Fortune, assistant city manager, said in a memo.
As recommended by the KPMG staffing study of DPD, the city authorized the consulting firm to take a deep dive into the 911 call center this summer to offer advice on how to operate more efficiently. The study began in July and concluded in September.
During the City Council's Public Safety Committee meeting Monday, KPMG offered 21 recommendations for the committee to consider from six different categories: staffing, call signals and call priorities, call diversion, staff process and performance management, training and hiring.
KPMG said that some of these areas are already being worked on.
The department and the city have been looking at ways to divert calls away from police for some time now. Last year, DPD launched its Dallas Online Reporting System (DORS) for people to report crime that doesn’t require immediate assistance. And the launch of the RIGHT Care Program, which sends social workers on police calls to assist the mentally ill and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, arrests and interactions with police, has helped dispatchers refer some calls to other agencies or city services.
The firm told the committee that it needs to continue to promote the diversion of calls.
By 2022, the city plans to have expanded the RIGHT Care Program to 10 teams operating seven days a week. This would essentially make the program full-time and citywide. Additionally, the implementation of violence interrupters — people who can resolve conflict and stem violence from within their communities — and mobile crisis response teams, set to launch sometime next year, will further relieve the pressure on DPD’s call center.
The committee was also told that the communications division needs to be civilianized. During this year’s budget talks, the city cut $7 million from DPD’s overtime budget to be reallocated to other public safety efforts. Some of this money is going toward hiring 95 more civilian employees. According to KPMG, 28 positions in the communications division have been identified for civilian employment.
Some dispatching procedures need to be changed as well, according to KPMG’s presentation. The department should review its more than 100 call signals to see which ones can be merged, and dispatchers should be deploying the nearest next available officer, opposed to just the next available one who may be on the other side of town.
Last month, 10 new call-takers started their training and several other applicants were finishing their background checks.
This isn’t the first time the call center has run into trouble. Just in 2017, the call center had fallen to similar levels, with as low as 60 people picking up the phones. Back then, the city was able to increase these numbers by streamlining the hiring process. KPMG said the city could make the process even faster by making it completely electronic.
Chair of the committee, Jennifer Staubach Gates, said the council should continue to follow up with the department about the call center's goals and how these recommendations are being employed.
KPMG is working on putting together a five-year plan to implement these changes.
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