911 Program Manager Resigns

Staffing Change Comes Amid Controversy Over 911 Holds

The program manager for San Diego’s 911 dispatch center has resigned, amid controversy over unanswered 911 calls and long hold times.

City officials confirmed Program Manager Gerardo Gurrola’s resignation Thursday.

Last month, a Mira Mesa family whose baby was mauled by the family dog gave up on 911 to race to the hospital, after waiting more than three minutes for a dispatcher.

Gurrola’s replacement in running dispatch will be San Diego Police Department (SDPD) Captain Jerry Hara, according to city officials.

Several dispatchers and community members we spoke with say they believe the new leadership is a step in a positive direction. Gurrola did not return a request for comment.

The April 21 death of a Mira Mesa infant boy drew attention to emergency hold times.

The family wasn’t alone in waiting on 911. In April 2016, the longest wait time for a 911 caller was 7 minutes and 6 seconds.

State mandates require police departments to try to answer 911 calls within 10 seconds at least 90 percent of the time.

In April 2016, SDPD answered within the 10 second goal only 67 percent of the time.

A San Diego businesswoman told NBC 7 she recently had to wait several minutes on 911 when a woman went into labor at her work.

“Those few seconds, when they’re on hold, someone can have a heart attack,” said Cynthia Green. “Someone can lose a child. A mother can lose a daughter, a son, a grandparent.”

Photos taken in recent months of the San Diego Police dispatch center system shows wait times of more than 10 minutes to get to a dispatcher.

In the heat of campaign season, mayoral candidates vying to replace Mayor Kevin Faulconer have also taken aim at the issue.

“Well, you know, I want to change the management from the very top because I really feel like this comes from the top down,” Mayoral candidate Lori Saldana said in reaction to the news of Gurrola’s departure.

Mayoral candidate and San Diego lifeguard Ed Harris has been particularly critical of Faulconer on the issue that he says impacts public safety.

“He didn’t inherit this problem,” Harris said. “He owns this problem. Two and a half years. If you can’t fix something, in two and a half years, if you’re still talking about goals after two and a half years. If you worked in the private sector, you wouldn’t have a job.”

Mayor Faulconer declined an interview.

Since the April 21 death, Faulconer has authorized more police officers to work dispatch with eight officers fielding non-emergency calls and another 65 in training to assist dispatch as they can.

He has pledged more money to address retention and recruitment in dispatch and the San Diego Police Department.

This week, Faulconer announced he was adding $652,000 for dispatchers to increase recruitment and retention, and an additional four million dollars in funding to address retention issues at San Diego Police Department as a whole.

No specific plan for how that money will be spent is outlined because doing so would violate state “meet and confer” laws, which mandate negotiations with unions be done at the bargaining table, a mayoral spokesman said.

Several dispatchers told NBC 7 the department sometimes doesn’t use resources for the highest priority.

They pointed to a $153,306 purchase of office furniture in fiscal year 2014.

Others in the community told NBC 7 that if anyone’s going to fix the problem, it’s San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.

“She just stepped into this. It’s not on her. It’s because other people have been flakey and not taking care of the problem when they saw it started,” said MJ Villegas, a San Diego resident. “But because she’s there, I know she will take care of it. There’s a lot of things she might have to maneuver to get it done, but she will do it.”

City pay data shows Gurrola received $101,334.36 in total pay and benefits for fiscal year 2014.

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