Mayor Faulconer Announces Next Steps to Address Long-Standing Dispatch Issues

Emergency Wait Times Stem From Cuts Made During City’s Financial Crisis, Increased Call Volume

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 - NEWS RELEASE
 
San Diego – In response to the City’s financial crisis, funding was cut for public safety over the course of many years as City leaders worked to balance a shrinking budget. Today, following up on a series of recent steps taken to reinvest in the police dispatch call center, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and public safety leaders outlined immediate actions to improve dispatcher staffing levels to address an increase in 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls.
 
“Though we’ve made gains in recent years by restoring funding for these positions, the City’s pension and financial crisis left a big hole from which we are still emerging. Regardless of how we got here, the longer 9-1-1 wait times that have been reported are unacceptable and the City is taking ongoing actions to improve,” said Mayor Faulconer. “It will take time to reverse the financial challenges that have stacked up for nearly a decade, but I am determined to move us in the right direction so that San Diego remains one of the nation’s safest big cities.”

Mayor Faulconer outlined five new steps to address this long-standing issue:

  1. Additional funding for a more aggressive recruitment and retention package in the May revision to his proposed budget, due out later this month. Exact figures will be released at that time;
  2. Assign more personnel to assist at the call center, taking on duties such as returning calls that hang up so dispatchers can focus on high-priority calls;
  3. Publicly report dispatch call statistics on a monthly basis
  4. Analyze dispatch workflow to identify process improvements and efficiencies
  5. Public awareness efforts to remind San Diegans not to hang up and try again when you call 9-1-1, only call 9-1-1 in life-threatening emergencies, and to lock cell phone screens to reduce pocket dials.

These steps are on top of actions previously taken to bolster the City’s emergency call center. Mayor Faulconer recently started dispatchers at higher pay, awarded retention incentives, ramped up recruiting to year-round, sped up hiring time, and funded additional dispatch positions in his three City budgets. 

Background
 
Between Fiscal Year 2008 and Fiscal Year 2012, public safety – including emergency dispatch – saw reductions as City leaders worked to balance the budget in the face of rising pension bills and an economic recession. Budgeted and actual positions decreased almost every year over that period. 
 
At the same time, annual call volume began to increase dramatically. There were more than 100,000 more calls to 9-1-1 in Fiscal Year 2015 compared to Fiscal Year 2008 (626,694 vs. 526,391).
A contributing factor is additional phone lines. Until 2014, callers to 9-1-1 would receive a busy signal if all lines were full. To avoid this, 16 lines were added over the last two years (10 in June 2014 and 6 in November 2015). The additional lines decreased busy signals but allowed for an increase in call capacity. 
 
As a result, call wait times pre-2014 are not directly comparable to today because the dispatch system does not track callers who receive busy signals.
 
Joining Mayor Faulconer for the announcement were local law enforcement and employee group leaders.
 
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said: “We continue to rebuild the San Diego Police Department following devastating budget cuts during San Diego’s fiscal crisis. The recruiting and retention issues for police officers and dispatchers didn’t happen overnight and won’t be solved overnight, but Mayor Faulconer’s budgets have fully funded these positions allowing us to hire year-round.”
 
Michael Zucchet, General Manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association which represents City of San Diego dispatchers, said: “Mayor Faulconer is the first mayor I can remember who personally toured the dispatch center to hear their needs first-hand. He worked together with us to make significant strides by fully funding dispatchers that will go a long way to addressing this issue. We’ve made more progress in the last several months than in the last several years. We look forward to working with him to recruit new dispatchers and make sure San Diegans get the best possible service.”
 
Brian Marvel, President of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said: “Mayor Faulconer has made public safety a top priority since he took office two years ago. One of the first things he did was to provide additional pay and benefits to address the recruitment and retention issues within the Police Department. We will work with City leaders to find more ways to help improve public safety and we applaud the steps the Mayor is taking to help our dispatchers.”
 
Jennifer Duffy, a 9-1-1 dispatcher and recruiter with 11 years of service, said: “Well before 9-1-1 response times became a story in the local media, Mayor Faulconer was working hard behind the scenes to improve the pay and working conditions for dispatchers. He did it while nobody was watching because he thought it was the right thing to do to bolster public safety for every neighborhood in San Diego. This is a problem that our city inherited from its darker financial past, but together I know we’re going to do everything we can to solve it.”