The emergency call wait time crisis that troubled Kansas City Police Department commanders last year seems to be easing after a hefty investment by the city.
Last fall, it took 57 seconds, on average, for a call taker to answer a 911 call. KCPD commanders testified before the council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Committee that the wait time was down to 21 seconds as of April.
“Every second, literally, makes a difference in an emergency," Councilwoman Alissia Canady, chair of the committee said. "That’s why it’s so important to this council to make sure we had enough people answering the phone.”
While the Communications Center is still not fully staffed, Major Daniel Gates said the department expects to have all call taker and dispatcher positions filled by August. But, he says, it will take time for the new employees to get good at their jobs.
“I would say over the next several months we’re not going to see a large variance," Gates said. "But I’m hoping toward the end of the year we start seeing those queuing times or those 911 hold times go down significantly.”
For months, there were so few communications employees that all of them worked mandatory 12-hour shifts. That ended in March, according to Deputy Chief Roger Lewis. “I’ve been around the police department a long time, and I’ve said throughout my entire career, I don’t think I could do their job,” Lewis told the committee.
Burnout caused some dispatchers to quit in the middle of their shifts last year. Doing away with 12-hours shifts has improved retention. Also after a car chase, bank robbery or other major event, supervisors insist dispatchers and call takers take a break in something KCPD calls the meditation room.
Gates says stress is often greater in the Communications Center than on the street after a major police action. “It ends for the officer but the dispatcher has to go, okay, next call.”
A new class of call takers starts on May 29. It is being paid for with an additional $5.6 million added to the this year's budget to pay for more officers and dispatchers.