It Took Six Months for Dallas PD to Admit Its 911 System Was in Shambles. Now, They're Fixing It.

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It took a house burning to the ground and a woman being murdered, plus an additional six months, but Dallas police have finally acknowledged just how abysmally run its 911 call center was.

Deputy Chief Scott Walton said as much today during a briefing before the City Council's Public Safety Committee, though, naturally, he didn't use those words exactly. He preferred to focus on the great strides that have been made at the call center since Deanna Cook was murdered last August while on the phone with 911 operators.

The most glaring issue was staffing. At the time of Cook's murder, the center had the equivalent of 65 out of 92 call-taker positions filled, a shortfall that was mostly filled by forcing employees to work overtime. That was fine as a short-term fix but, Walton noted, resulted in "overtime fatigue" and no doubt contributed to the center's astronomically high attrition rate, with fully half of the workers leaving within a year. With no employee pipeline to speak of, and with call taker training lasting 13 weeks, it was as much as the center could do to fill the positions being vacated.

"To make things a little worse, when we started looking at how we staff days off, it didn't exactly match up with when calls come in," Walton said. So, on Friday and Saturday nights, when the center is invariably flooded with calls, call takers tended to become overwhelmed. Often, supervisors weren't even on the floor, as required under call center rules.

The center was, and remains, relatively poorly equipped for handling cell phone calls, which is a problem, seeing that they are now the source of more than 75 percent of the 2 million 911 calls DPD fields each year. For starters, operators can't trace the location of a cell phone user. And sometimes cell phone calls don't get relayed from the cell tower to the 911 call center, even though the caller will hear the phone ringing. "The 911 system," Chief David Brown notes, "was built for landlines."

The cell phone issue, a challenge for law enforcement agencies everywhere, doesn't have any near-term fixes. But Walton said the department has fixed most of the more immediate issues at the 911 call center.

The changes start from the top. To bring "fresh perspective," as Brown puts it, call center management -- the chief, the captain, all the lieutenants -- have been replaced. They've revamped operations and put in place a more rational scheduling scheme, adding an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. swing shift and assigning more call takers to Friday and Saturday nights.

Aiding those efforts is the addition of 45 new call takers, the final dozen of whom are scheduled to complete training over the next couple of weeks. They've also worked with the city's civil service department to build a pool of applicants for call taker positions. Probably most significant on the staffing side: The call takers get a raise.

"When you listen to the exit interview of why were you leaving ... we constantly heard that 'I would answer more calls in Dallas in one hour than I would answer all day somewhere else,'" Brown said. "So that's where this salary adjustment was really the right thing to address the attrition issue."

The numbers say the new approach is working. Last August, when Cook was murdered, the average answer time for 911 calls was 11 seconds. In February, it was down to 2 seconds. "That's a huge improvement in the level of service that's being provided to the city of Dallas," Walton said.


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18 comments
casiepierce
casiepierce

I've had at least a half a dozen qualified friends who were never even so mach as interviewed for a call-taker position. I don't think they're letting onto the full extent of the problem.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

But this city "works!" How could anything be wrong?

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

While you can't see inside the secure 911 call center you can  go by Westmorland and 30 and see some of the city managers similar handwork on display at Dallas  animal control Office ....

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

But by golly we got us a string thingy bridge, a deck park and an arts district with the building of art death ...

WylieH
WylieH

"For starters, operators can't trace the location of a cell phone user.... The cell phone issue, a challenge for law enforcement agencies everywhere, doesn't have any near-term fixes."

Isn't cell-phone locator technology standard fare at modern 911 centers?   Is the City saying they have no intent to invest in the equipment that would enable call takers to locate cellphone users?

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

So someone answers the Phone ? The Southwest Substation could use about 10 more officers on the week end evening shifts just to keep up

GuitarPlayer
GuitarPlayer

Two reasons why the 911/311 operation (same people) was messed up was budget cuts and poor upper management. Easy fixes but it always takes someone dying to make it happen. Notice how the mayor and council never get the blame for this stuff? 

MichaelinLH
MichaelinLH

"And cell phone calls never gets relayed from the cell tower to the 911 call center, even though the caller will hear the phone ringing." 

So, are you saying that if I call 911 on my cell phone it will never be picked up by the call center?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

You know, sorry, heads need to roll.  The 911 system is basic to the safety and security of city residents.  Who in the hell let it deteriorate like that?

WylieH
WylieH

@GuitarPlayer The 311 calls still take forever to go through.  Whenever I need to call them, I just put it on speaker and work on something else until they pick up.  It's just too bad they can't play some pleasant music while on hold... instead, it's just this lady who barks at you over and over again with the same message.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@GuitarPlayer Same thing about getting a light at a dangerous intersection.  Someone has to die first.  Must be a rule.

MisterMean
MisterMean

@MichaelinLH There was a similar problem with those who have AT&T's U-verse for phone, tv and internet.   Voice over IP did not go to the emergency numbers-you had to call the full phone numbers to get through.  

WylieH
WylieH

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Mary Suhm, and she repeatedly denied there was any problem when directly asked about this by certain City Council Members.  That was before the bodies starting piling up.

GuitarPlayer
GuitarPlayer

@WylieH  


I never have a problem providing info. I find it much better than waiting 10 minutes and the folks who answer the 311 line use the same exact system so they are able to put the same amount of info as you. The only difference is that you are having someone put it in the system for you......and they are more than likely to get it wrong. 

WylieH
WylieH

@GuitarPlayer That system works okay for certain requests, but its archaic menu driven system is all jacked up with odd and missing categories and some items don't allow you to input sufficient information required to address the issue.

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