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N4T Investigators: New leadership making progress inside Tucson’s 9-1-1 communications center

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Tucson's Public Safety Communications Department is undergoing a major transformation, following an outside report last year that uncovered numerous problems with staffing, morale and training.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have also been tracking your concerns about the wait times at the city's 9-1-1 center for the past three years.

Last year, the city had third-party access problems within the public safety communications center.

Their report found, among other things, two cultures in one workforce, with a rivalry between dispatchers serving the police department along with the fire department.

There were reports of extreme fear when it came to retaliation and job-related discipline, as well as low employee morale, and untrained and improperly trained employees.

However, things may be improving. 

“It boils down to having enough staff to get the job done every day and meeting that goal of 90% of the time, answering the calls within 15 seconds,” said Tucson Police Deputy Chief Chad Kasmar, who has been serving as the department’s interim director, after the previous director abruptly resigned back in January.

Kasmar tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the department’s leadership team is committed to finding solutions to help the center better serve the public.  

“A decade of problems are not solved in four months. This is going to be a multi-year project, and approach to creating the consolidated Public Safety Communications Department that we all want,” Kasmar said.

Kasmar also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the center's workload has been increasing, and not just for emergency calls.

Over the first four months of this year, the center handled approximately 25,000 calls, including 19,000 that were ​incoming. Of those, two-thirds were for non-emergencies and could also include calls from those who are battling serious mental illness.

“At the point, somebody is having a mental health crisis and had to call 9-1-1, the system has failed - not 9-1-1 - but the system has failed the person in crisis,” Kasmar said.

People working in the center say things are beginning to improve, but they also know it will take time.

“We're processing more calls, we're able to help citizens a lot easier than before, that's for sure,” said Sabrina Anderson, who is cross-trained as both a 9-1-1 call-taker and dispatcher.

Kasmar says they are now working to fill open positions within the department.

“If you are looking for an amazing career, a public safety career where you can give back to your community, and every day is exciting and every day is different and what you do matters - we want you,” Kasmar said.

For non-emergencies where police assistance is not immediately required, you can use the Tucson Police Department's Online Crime Reporting or call (520) 791-4444 from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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