Why are 911 hold times in Fresno as long as a half-hour?

CBS47 Investigates

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) –  A staffing shortage inside the Fresno Police Dispatch Center is directly affecting the department’s effectiveness in answering 911 calls according to the police chief.

Call statistics obtained through a public record request show some who call 911 are on hold for more than five minutes.

Some who call the non-emergency line can be on hold for more than 20 minutes. When someone is calling 911 for an emergency, every second matters.

But what happens if you are waiting not seconds but minutes for an answer?

Inside the Fresno Dispatch Center, there are anywhere from five to nine people answering the phones at a given time. There is an average of about 2,000 phone calls that come into the dispatch center on any given day.

Once a dispatcher finishes one call, they immediately move on to the next.

“The atmosphere in our dispatch center when it’s really busy can be very chaotic for our dispatchers,” Kathy Deborde, Fresno PD dispatch supervisor, said.

Because of the extensive amount of phone calls coming in, dispatchers tell us it’s difficult for a dispatcher to keep up. On their screens, they are able to see the number of callers waiting to get through.

Sometimes it’s dozens of people waiting to be heard.

“It’s very frustrating, sometimes heartbreaking when you know someone needs help but you can’t answer their call,” Deborde said.

We requested a snapshot of what some 911 callers are waiting to report.

Someone waited more than four minutes to report domestic violence, more than four minutes to report a knife disturbance, more than five minutes to report chest pains, more than seven minutes to report a hit and run.

On the non-emergency lines, the wait can be close to a half-hour.

Someone waited more than 27 minutes to report theft, more than 22 minutes to report a disturbance inside a store, more than 20 minutes to report child endangerment.

“It’s unacceptable and that’s a standard that needs to be raised,” Paco Balderrama, Police Chief, said. “Nobody should have to wait 20 minutes. It’s an area we need to work on for certain. Is it efficient? No. It needs to be faster, so that’s the goal is to increase efficiency. That’s only going to happen when we hire more people.”

Right now, there is a 27% shortage in staffing. That’s one out of every four dispatch positions that need to be filled.

“If we had more bodies in our communications center obviously it would spread the call load around more evenly,” Deborde said.

“Being a dispatcher is a very difficult job, typically it’s underappreciated, underpaid, so all of these are challenges in recruiting people,” Chief Balderrama said.

Fresno police dispatchers are paid eight percent less than the average dispatcher across the valley.

“If the comparable stats in the valley show we are underpaid then we should be at that level or slightly higher,” Balderrama said.

Visalia, Clovis, and The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office are a few examples of departments who pay their dispatchers more than Fresno.

“One thing I have asked the city manager’s office is to make us a more attractive police department and I believe we are more attractive when we pay more,” Chief Balderrama said.

Chief Balderrama is not part of contract negotiations. That’s up to the City Manager’s Office and the dispatcher’s labor union, FCEA.

The FCEA and the City Manager’s Office have finished negotiations and reached an agreement after nearly 16 months.

The next step will be for the city council to approve it, likely going to a vote on December 2nd.

As far as any salary increase in the new contracts, if the council approves, Fresno dispatchers will get a 3 percent raise.

That’s according to Sam Franks with the labor union. He says this raise would only help with inflation, not the fight for a more competitive salary.

The Mayor gave us this statement regarding dispatcher pay and the contract negotiations between the city and union:

“In my opinion, you could never pay a police officer, firefighter, or dispatcher enough money for what they do. I have discovered over the years that those individuals do what they do out of a sense of purpose. The good news is we recently reached a contract agreement with the union representing dispatchers.  This important agreement is part of my goal to provide fair compensation to all City employees.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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