Thursday, September 21, 2017

911 Call Center staffing is a very high priority

9-1-1 is the public’s literal life-line, and I take our responsibility to respond to and manage that life-line very seriously. The call-takers and dispatchers of the KCPD take calls and dispatch not just for police, but also for EMS, the Fire Department and Animal Health and Safety. The women and men sitting in our call center are the first first responders to every life and safety need in this city, and they are seriously over-worked.

Due to staffing issues that existed before I came into the Chief’s position, all of our call-takers and dispatchers are working mandatory overtime. From the beginning of the year to Sept. 15, about 70 people have worked 11,360 hours of overtime. They’re missing family events, aren’t able to pick up their children from school and are burning out. That amount of additional work in a job that is already high-stress is causing substantial turn-over, creating more of a staffing crisis.

What that means for the public is that you can be put on hold when you call 911. For the month of July 2017, the average hold time was 24 seconds. No one is satisfied with wait times for 911. We want that response to be without delay all of the time. That is the community’s expectation, and it is ours, too. And we are working toward that.

The recent Matrix staffing study recommended we hire seven more Communications Unit staff – that is add seven more positions. We have 14 vacant positions at present, so that would be 21 more people than we have now. (I’ll periodically be highlighting here how we’re acting on the other recommendations of the Matrix study.) Based on recommendations from national public safety telecommunications organizations, we believe that number should be higher than what Matrix recommended.

We’ve been out in the community recruiting and have conducted dozens and dozens of interviews with potential candidates. If you are interested in this very important and interesting work, please check out the job description and where you can apply! We welcome any inquiries.

But if we hire 100 people tomorrow, it would still be some time before the Communications Unit is fully staffed. A call-taker must undergo 13 weeks of training before being able to operate independently. To become a dispatcher, call-takers must undergo an additional 16 weeks of training.

So in the short-term, we are doing a number of things to reduce 911 hold times and mandatory overtime. We are working to bring in experienced part-time and contract call-takers and dispatchers. There also are several members on our department who used to work in the Communications Unit but have moved onto other jobs. We have offered them refresher training and courses on our new computer-aided dispatching (CAD) system so they can do voluntary overtime. I really appreciate those department members stepping up. Some of them haven’t been in the call center for more than 20 years, but they still had the skillset, saw a need, and they volunteered to meet it.

In 2016, our Communications Unit answered 1,202,589 calls. While we also have a great need for more officers, getting the Communications Unit adequately staffed is one of my highest priorities right now, and the Board of Police Commissioners have indicated it’s theirs, as well.

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