City looking for more 911 operators - Albuquerque Journal

City looking for more 911 operators

In this 2018 photo, a dispatcher works at a desk station with a variety of screens used by those who take 911 emergency calls. APD is currently looking for more 911 operators to help ensure that all calls are answered quickly. (Lisa Marie Pane/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The city of Albuquerque is adding another 10 operator positions at its Emergency Communications Center in an attempt to rectify what the police chief said are sometimes “unacceptable” call wait times.

Currently only about 80% of local 911 calls are answered within 15 seconds, Albuquerque Police Department officials said Friday. The industry standard is to answer 90% in that timeframe.

Officials acknowledge there are occasions when it can take much longer – particularly when multiple people witness the same incident and they each dial for help separately.

The average wait time for 911 is currently 16 seconds, the department reported Friday, while the 242-COPS non-emergency line wait time is 1 minute 47 seconds.

“A lot of these calls are answered rather quickly (but) I still have concerns. …We know it’s unacceptable that sometimes there are outliers when people are put on hold for 40 minutes,” Police Chief Harold Medina said in a virtual media briefing Friday. “We need to correct that.”

With his department still hundreds of officers short of its budgeted number, the chief said it would apply some of those salary savings to add 10 new call-takers.

That’s on top of the 75 current positions. Of those, 74 are filled, though 16 are either just exiting, or still in, training. It takes about five or six months from hire date to have someone certified and answering calls, APD Deputy Chief J.J. Griego said.

The department has worked to smooth the path and make the job more attractive. Operator base salaries recently increased to $50,565 annually from about $44,000 and there is a $1,500 hiring bonus.

Whereas operators once had to attend training in Santa Fe, APD and Central New Mexico Community College collaborated to create an Albuquerque-based academy. Griego said the city also has shortened training in relatively inconsequential ways – removing, for example, lessons on the history of 911 – and reevaluated who is qualified for the work.

“One of the requirements is two-way radio experience – we look at that very broadly,” he said. “If someone has worked in the fast-food industry and worked in a drive thru, that’s a two-way radio, but sometimes people don’t necessarily recognize it as such.”

The city has seen 911 call volume rise 17% over the past two years to 459,720, according to data provided by APD, though the non-emergency calls have declined by 9% to 527,472 in the same span.

While operator staffing has improved over the last year, the city remains short of dispatchers with 12 of the 42 positions currently empty. Dispatchers make more and often come from the operator ranks, and Griego said the city cannot absorb losses among the call-takers.

“As we get fully staffed, we will be able to do that,” he said.

Griego said residents can help ensure existing staff is used most efficiently by not calling 911 unless it is a “life or death” emergency or when a “serious crime” like burglary or auto theft is in process. Other matters should go through 242-COPS. Officials also encourage witnesses not to call en masse during the same emergency, saying that can jam up the system.

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