OPD risks losing state funding if city's 911 response times do not improve

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Saturday, September 2, 2023
OPD risks losing state funding if 911 response times do not improve
The Oakland Police Department has been given a year by the state to speed up their 911 emergency response times.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Oakland Police Department has been given a year by the state to speed up their 911 emergency response times.

If they haven't shown improvement in a year, they could risk losing critical funding from the state or the ability to continue taking 911 calls, altogether.

In a letter from the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, dated a little more than a month ago, the state warns the Oakland Police Department "may be ineligible for state funding."

According to the state, agencies must answer 90% of calls within 15 seconds to receive state funding for 911 services.

MORE: Alameda Co. DA Pamela Price tackles crime in Oakland at community forum

But over the past year, Oakland has met that standard for about 46% of calls.

"Not only is it extremely frustrating and emotionally distressing, to be on the other end of that call when nobody answers the phone, but it can also have life and death consequences," said Marleen Sacks, an attorney said.

Sacks, a public safety advocate and local attorney, filed a series of public records requests, which eventually brought this letter to light.

She started looking into this after the city's 911 system went down for two days back in July.

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"If you imagine the kinds of victims that we have in Oakland today, who are car-jacking victims, victims of domestic violence, victims of rape, attempted murder," Sacks said. "They need to be able to get somebody on the phone within 15 seconds, that is a reasonable amount of time."

But this all comes after an Alameda County Grand Jury report highlighted major concerns at the Emergency Communications Center.

It claims that the 911 call center is not prepared for a major disaster, that there isn't enough staff to answer all 911 calls, and that it is in "dire need" of technology upgrades.

"It should be embarrassing to them that two grand jury reports have slammed Oakland's 911 response times and nothing has been done," Sacks said.

MORE: Oakland police investigating several robberies at convenience, liquor stores across city

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo says he gets complaints about this on a regular basis from people in the Fruitvale district.

"I grew up in the city of Oakland, and I've never seen the level of requests for public safety like I have today," Gallo said. "We need to get our 911 system in order."

The letter threatens, if the Oakland Police Department's numbers do not meet compliance by the end of July next year, 911 calls could get rerouted to another agency.

In a statement to ABC7, the city said, "The Oakland Police Department has identified to CalOES that the primary contributing factor to call answer times is lack of staffing. There are currently 63 dispatch/call taking staff and 14 vacancies."

MORE: Oakland residents raise crime concerns at packed public safety meeting with police, DA

To address vacancies, the city says they're continuously recruiting for dispatcher jobs, adding they've already interviewed 54 candidates since June.

They also plan community outreach and public informational events like one held on Wednesday night.

"I was surprised to hear from the state with their threat but hopefully that'll move the city of Oakland to get it done, repaired and fix immediately to address the needs that are happening on our streets," Gallo said.

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