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N4T Investigators: 911, Please Hold – Update

TUCSON – People who call 911 frequently wait several minutes for police to answer the phone, but hold times have drastically fallen since the creation of the Public Safety Communications Department.

The city merged police and fire 911 employees into one department at the end of 2017. In April of 2018, 32 percent of callers waited more than one minute for police to answer the phone.

Only 16 percent of callers waited more than 30 seconds in July.

Angel Spencer is a department administrator.

“We are very satisfied with the current numbers and the performance increase that we have experienced over the past year and a half,” Spencer said. “By no means is this really where we want to be.”

When a person dials 911, a call-taker generally transfers the call to police or fire.

The most dangerous 1 percent of calls go to the police priority queue. Those calls are answered almost immediately.

The department is trying to eliminate the transfer, but the number of transfers has not fallen since consolidation.

In January 2018, 27,517 calls were transferred to police. In January 2019, 28,268 calls were transferred. Every month, from January to July, when 2018 and 2019 are compared, the number of transfers remained similar.

“Our cross-training is just not where it needs to be yet,” Spencer said. “This takes time.”

Some lower priority calls still show potential risks. A domestic violence call, an argument between husband and wife, waited 6 minutes and 38 seconds in April. A trespassing call waited 6 minutes and 27 seconds in June.

“Every single call that comes in through the 911 phone system could potentially escalate,” Spencer said.

Fully crosstraining a new hire takes about 7 months, and Spencer said they are making progress.

“A year from now it’s going to look a lot more the way that it’s supposed to look in regards to efficiencies,” Spencer said.

Sam Salzwedel

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

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