I-Team: 911 dispatch issues affect police too

CINCINNATI - The issues that the I-Team uncovered at Cincinnati's 911 dispatch center don't just affect those calling for help: They could also delay the city's police officers.

Cincinnati police dispatchers used to report directly to the police department.

After consolidation that led to the creation of the Emergency Communications Center (ECC), they now work for a stand-alone civilian agency that reports to the city manager.

And with 27 unfilled positions at the ECC, the city is pulling police dispatchers off the radios to answer 911 calls.

As a result, regular police dispatchers may be delayed in assisting officers in the field when they need it most because they are pulled off to answer those 911 calls.

The I-Team originally reported Tuesday that the vacant positions are a result of a hiring freeze and a high attrition rate due to the stress of the job.

ORIGINAL REPORT: I-Team: Is calling 911 in the city of Cincinnati like roulette? (http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/i-team-is-911-in-the-city-of-cincinnati-a-game-of-roulette)

Joel Estes, the director of the ECC, touts the raised rate of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds or less, which in 2012, 22 percent of the calls took longer than 10 seconds to be picked up.

"Since then, we've gotten (the 10 second or less answer rate) up to 83 percent by re-allocating some resources to the time frames when we had the greatest call volumes," Estes said.

The I-Team spoke to two current Cincinnati dispatchers whose identities we are not releasing, and they revealed more details about the ECC's operations.

"Mr. Estes is passionate about the 911 calls being answered within a certain amount of seconds, therefore if we have to combine police channels, like District Two and Four would be one dispatcher shorter so we could put that dispatcher on the phones to get that call answered faster, but the person answering it is not trained to handle it, it doesn't make sense in the long run," Dispatcher One said.

Estes admits this is a practice the ECC undertakes.

"The reality is that we have to make sure we get those 911 calls answered. I mean that's our primary mission, get the calls answered and get the resources out there," Estes said.

The consolidation at the ECC also means that fire dispatchers are now dispatching police officers too.

"They only had four to 12 hours on the phones with a trained police call taker, and they unfortunately have put in the wrong incident types -- the difference between a robbery and a gun is a big difference," Dispatcher Two told the I-Team.

Staffing problems have led to training delays, but this I-Team investigation is already having an effect, according to our sources.

"I would like to see the emergency communications staff trained fully. No more excuses. I want us to serve the city of Cincinnati to the best of our ability," Dispatcher One said.

One dispatcher wrote the below letter (http://goo.gl/czeAh) to Cincinnati City Council member Charlie Winburn, saying " management started expediting training once they caught wind of the I-Team investigation and I was informed that I, along with several co-workers will be rushed through 911 medical training this week and next. While Estes will be able to say that we are all trained to take medical calls by the end of the month, please don't be deceived.  Our training will be rushed, and will not be to the standard that it should be."



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