The Sacramento Police Department is moving quickly to hire more dispatchers after state authorities warned this month that it was taking too long to answer many 911 calls.
The department’s plan includes redirecting money allocated for eight police officer positions, which are currently vacant, and using it to hire 10 dispatchers instead. Police Department leaders have asked Sacramento City Council members to approve the change at their meeting Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the department received a letter from the state’s Office of Emergency Services, warning that the department has not met the state’s standard of answering 95 percent of all 911 calls within 15 seconds.
Sacramento Police Department dispatchers answered calls in 15 seconds or less an average of 82 percent of the time over a 12-month period beginning last July, the letter said.
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As of Friday afternoon, the department was unable to say how long it takes, on average, for someone dialing 911 in the city to reach a police dispatcher because some of that information is held by the California Highway Patrol.
The Police Department answers about 30 percent of 911 cellular calls made in the city, Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, a Police Department spokesman, said. About 60 percent are picked up by the CHP, and the rest by surrounding police agencies, before being rerouted to the department if needed, he said.
Sacramento is the only major city in the state that relies on the CHP to answer cellphone calls, according to a City Council report.
“Any type of transfer is going to add a delay,” Heinlein said. “We want to take out the middleman and have all the calls go straight to (the Police Department).”
Currently, the department doesn’t have the ability to answer all 911 calls directly. There are fewer dispatchers than there were a decade ago but more calls, the report said.
Last year, the department received more than 738,200 emergency calls and had funding for 70 full-time dispatcher positions. In 2008, the department received 708,700 calls, but had funding for 108 dispatchers, the report said. (Heinlein noted that the number of dispatchers employed didn’t necessarily match the number of positions funded.)
If given the green light by the City Council, the department would be able to repurpose $880,656 originally intended to hire officers and use it to hire dispatchers.
Police officials are also asking council members to allow dispatchers to handle all cellphone calls if 10 new dispatchers are hired. The new hires would need to go through four months of training, Heinlein said.
The department has a shortage of patrol officers, with 95 vacant positions that need to be filled, but hiring more dispatchers is a priority, Heinlein said.
Tim Davis, who serves as president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, the labor union that represents the department’s dispatchers, said he supported reallocating funds toward hiring dispatchers even if it means pulling funding from an already depleted police force.
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“When somebody calls 911 because there’s an emergency, we need to answer that as quickly as we can,” Davis said. “If we can’t do that, that’s not good for our citizens and it’s not good for our city.”