San Jose approves changes to help 911 dispatch centers respond to calls faster

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Calls coming into 911 have to be answered fast, but in San Jose, some calls aren't being answered fast enough.

"San Jose is having problems meeting its emergency call answering times," said city auditor Sharon Erickson, tasked with finding solutions.

She believes her 70-page audit, which was published in February and approved by city council on Tuesday, will help the city meet state standards.

The state mandates that 95 percent of 911 calls be answered within 15 seconds. San Jose's average was closer to 80 percent. The state is threatening to cut funding if that number doesn't improve.

The city implemented some new phone systems, which helped them get to 90 percent. But they did it with huge amounts of overtime, sometimes with people working 15-hour shifts.

That's not a long-term solution, said San Jose Assistant Police Chief Dave Knopf.

"We are a 24/7-365 operation, which takes a large commitment. And because of our staffing levels, we have had to incorporate mandatory overtime. And that can be problematic. It's tough on people," said Knopf.

Erikson says the best fix is to reroute non-emergency calls.

"About 40 percent of the calls they are handling in the call center are not emergencies. One of our recommendations is to begin moving some of those calls out to other personal," explains Erikson.

Even then, there is the challenge of training and retaining dispatchers.

In January of this year, there were 24 unfilled jobs with San Jose police. There were eight with San Jose Fire.

The city falls in the middle when it comes to pay and benefits, which is part of the problem. But Assistant Chief Knopf says the department is putting a lot of effort and resources towards recruitment. He says the applicant pool is already up 20 percent.

He says police, fire and the city will meet as early as next week to start to implement some of the proposals.
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