Mayor Kevin Faulconer has unveiled a new plan to address San Diego's long-standing 911 dispatch issues.
The new steps come amid NBC 7's reports of long wait times for city residents calling the emergency line.
Most recently, the family of an infant mauled to death by the family dog waited 3 minutes and 10 seconds for a 911 dispatcher to receive one of its calls, San Diego police confirmed exclusively to NBC 7 San Diego.
The baby's death highlighted severe staffing shortages in dispatch.
“The city budget woes left a deep hole from which we are still emerging,” Faulconer said at a mid-afternoon news conference outside police headquarters downtown. “A rise in 911 non-emergency calls have added to our challenges.”
Faulconer announced five new steps to help immediately address the issue.
Faulconer announced a more aggressive recruitment package in his May revision to the budget, additional financial incentives to keep dispatchers on the job and a pay raise for mid-level dispatcher positions that will go in effect in weeks. Additional personnel will be assigned to the department to return hung up calls so dispatchers can focus on important calls, Faulconer said.
Faulconer said he also plans to increase accountability and make the call center more efficient by reviewing workflows. The City’s Performance and Analytics Team will work with the SDPD to modernize procedures.
Starting soon, the City will launch new awareness efforts to remind San Diegans to stay on the call. Hanging up kicks you to the back of the waiting line, Faulconer said, and he asked residents to only call 911 in life-threatening emergencies.
“Under the circumstances of the staffing crisis over the last several years, it has been an extremely stressful and difficult situation,” said Michael Zucchet, General Manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association.
In past months, Faulconer said he made several changes to the dispatch center. Dispatchers now start with higher pay and are awarded retention incentives. City officials have begun recruiting year-round, have sped up the hiring process and have made salary adjustments.
Chief Shelley Zimmerman said her department received over 1.4 million calls into the communications center. More than 672,000 were emergency calls, she said.
In past years, vacant positions were eliminated from the department’s budget or just weren’t funded, Zimmerman said.
“That was 12,000 emergency calls that had to be answered or called back to determine if there was a true emergency, keeping a dispatcher in those precious seconds away from answering a real emergency,” the chief said.
A poignant moment was struck at the start of the news conference when Jennifer Duffy, the dispatch center’s recruiter, stepped the microphone.
"It is said that dispatchers are the 'Thin Gold Line',” she said. “We are the voices in the dark who are heard but never seen. I am blessed to be surrounded with some of the most dedicated and hard-working people you will ever meet. Every day they come in, dig in, and support that Thin Gold Line."