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N4T Investigators: 9-1-1 Please Hold – UPDATE

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TUCSON (KVOA) - There has been a major shake-up inside Tucson's 9-1-1 dispatch center after a scathing report about its working conditions was released last year.

It was back in 2017 when the News 4 Tucson Investigators broke the story about dangerously-long wait times for 9-1-1 callers. By the end of 2018 - Tucson Police and Fire had combined their dispatch centers.

Turns out, it appears the merger has created a crisis.

In April 2018, approximately 32% percent of callers were waiting more than one minute. By July, the wait times had improved, but the problems were far from over.

Last year, the city of Tucson had a third-party assess its combined public safety communications center.

The 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 also reports of a culture of extreme fear when it comes to retaliation and job-related discipline, as well as and low employee morale, and untrained and improperly trained employees.

There were also a number of COVID-19 related issues, including alleged false data about cleaning frequency employees never receiving test results and giving news outlets false reports.

"The third-party came in and they interviewed employees - they did not get the other side of the story from the management's perspective, so I think that the assessment was one-sided and flawed, to a degree," Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Flawed or not, just a few days ago Tucson's director of public safety communications abruptly resigned. Their departure came just days before a progress report was due following last summer's assessment.

Councilman Kozachik says he would like to see a regional 9-1-1 system for efficiency and given the critical role of public safety communications in our community.

"The 9-1-1 dispatch center has to be up and running. We can't have flubs, we can't stub our toe, because people's lives are at stake," Kozachik said.

Deputy Tucson police chief Chad Kasmar is taking over for now, as the city searches for a new director. In an email to the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Deputy Chief Kasmar told us:


City leadership, Mayor and Council, and the larger Public Safety Communications Department (PSCD) team are committed to completing a comprehensive evaluation of the City of Tucson Public Safety Communications Department Workplace Assessment Project Executive Summary report. 

The 40 page report, and 14 composite recommendations for consideration are currently being addressed through the Public Safety Communications Task Force. Task force consists of leadership from a variety of City team departments to include human resources, the police and fire department, attorneys office, and the manager’s office.  A cross section of PSCD personnel and labor representation have also been assembled to assist PSCD leadership with the evaluation and implementation of report recommendations.  

The comprehensive operations within the PSCD present unique challenges and opportunities for our entire team in the services we provide to our community.  Recruiting and hiring quality applicants to join the Public Safety Communications team is our top priority. 

If you or someone you know is looking for a meaningful community service career, email us at PSCD_HR@tucsonaz.gov, or go to the City of Tucson website at https://www.jobapscloud.com//tucson/Default.asp

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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