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N4T Investigators: 911, Please Hold – Update

TUCSON – Thousands of 911 callers are still waiting minutes to connect to police.

About 24% of callers in the Tucson city limits waited more than 1 minute to be connected in December.

The hold times have improved since last spring. The most dangerous, high-priority calls are not holding anymore.

One of the longest calls in December waited more than 15 minutes. The immediate threat had passed, but a hospital worker was calling to report a sexual offense. The late-night shift only had 3 relatively inexperienced police calltakers because of sick leave and jury duty.

Ana Corcoran is a Communications Coordinator who has been working at the city’s 911 center for 13 years.

“I’m not unhappy with the current numbers,” she said. “I think we’re moving that mark. We’re moving that needle. We’re doing what we can to make those improvements. I think we’re going to see those get better.”

All calls are answered almost immediately. When people need police, they are usually transferred. The police transfers have been the city’s biggest challenge.

About 1% of the most dangerous calls are transferred to the priority queue. None of those calls have waited more than 1 minute since September.

The city council created the Public Safety Communications Department at the end of 2017. Employees used to work for either the police department or fire department. Now, all employees are being cross-trained to eliminate transfers. Leaders from the communications, police and fire departments are still regularly meeting to work on the system.

“It’s been challenging,” Corcoran said. “It wasn’t an easy process. But we’ve made significant strides since then. And we are starting to see the benefits.”

The worst waits of 2018 were in April and May. About 32% of callers had to wait more than 1 minute to talk to police. The numbers have varied, but the shortest waits were in July and October, with about 14% of callers waiting more than 1 minute for police to answer.

The December wait times were expected to increase slightly with the loss of some employees and the promotions of others.

The cross-training is expected to be finished, and wait times should greatly improve by the end of June.

The department is also working on Criteria Based Dispatch. Police, fire and communications leaders are working on more standardization, so officers, medics and firefighters have the most important information in the field. The process is difficult because there are so many variations in calls. They hope to become national leaders in standardization in the future.

The department has been hiring employees as fast as they can be trained. The next applications will be accepted from February 12 until March 1, with a start date of April 8. Applications will be accepted again from May 29 until June 12.

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel is an investigative reporter at News 4 Tucson - KVOA.
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