Operational changes credited for improved 911 wait times

SAN DIEGO — More than 93 percent of calls to 911 in San Diego were answered within 10 seconds in November, after the city took several steps to address long-standing issues that had plagued the police emergency dispatch center, the mayor’s office announced Friday.

That figure was an improvement over April statistics when only about 67 percent of 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds, and it’s better than the national target of having 90 percent of the calls answered within that time frame.

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“This is a major milestone for our city as we have made significant progress thanks to the changes we’ve made to improve emergency wait times and provide better service to our neighborhoods,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “This is a positive step forward, but we know that we must maintain this standard to ensure that San Diego remains one of the nation’s safest big cities.”

Faulconer won approval from the City Council for a new compensation package for 911 police dispatchers to address recruitment and retention issues. Under the new agreement, police dispatchers receive three separate 5 percent increases staggered over 12 months.

“We are proud of the progress we have made in our dispatch center as we know every second counts in an emergency,” Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. “This improvement would not be possible without the hard work and commitment of our dispatchers who come to work each day ready to make a positive difference.”

Before this new agreement and other compensation changes, San Diego ranked near the bottom in total compensation for police dispatchers — 17th out of 18th according to a California Agencies Survey conducted in November 2015.

Faulconer has taken several other steps to address dispatch operations besides increased compensation for dispatchers including:

-Providing $1,000 exceptional merit bonuses for most police dispatchers in March.

-Fully funding police dispatch positions for the first time in years.

-Recruiting year-round for police dispatchers.

-Shifting additional resources to expedite the hiring process for police dispatchers.

-Training 100 sworn officers and light-duty officers to assist at the call center.

-Implementing protocols that expedite call transfers to other agencies like Fire-Rescue.

-Enhancing working conditions that allow dispatchers to better monitor call waiting status and improve computer screen visibility.

-Deploying technology and standardized recordings to better route non- emergency calls and provide answers to frequently asked questions, thus freeing up dispatchers to answer 911 calls.

-Implementing a new shift schedule to provide better call coverage at the busiest times.

-Releasing a public service announcement video to remind San Diegans to only dial 911 in life-threatening emergencies, not to hang up when calling 911 and to lock cell phone screens to reduce pocket dials.

“The team effort that led to these types of improvements is exactly what Mayor Faulconer has in mind when he talks about his vision of a city government as innovative as the people we serve,” Performance & Analytics Department Director Almis Udrys said. “Our operational excellence team jumped at the opportunity to engage with the fantastic group of dispatchers and facilitate identification and implementation of as many of their ideas as possible.”