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City's 911 Emergency Call System Will Be Revamped Within Six Months

By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
    If you have a problem with your weeds, you can get someone on the telephone faster than if you called 911 to report a shooting.
    On average, people who call the city's 311 information line get an operator within a second, city officials said. A call to 911 is an 18-second wait.
    On Tuesday, city leaders announced that Michael Padilla, the city's 311 director, will manage 911 and overhaul the entire system in the next six months.
    Everything from shifts, training, organizational structure, overall politeness of operators and how desks are arranged will be changed.
    "We are going to make the numbers at 911 better than the numbers at 311," Padilla said. "That is our number-one goal."
    For years, APD's communications center has been plagued with problems. It has never been fully staffed, and a couple of high-profile cases have landed the city in litigation.
    A lawsuit was recently filed by the family of Randi Regensberg, who was shot and killed by her boyfriend in an apparent murder-suicide last summer.
    According to police records, 911 was called five times, reporting that Regensberg was being held against her will. An officer was finally sent to the home 97 minutes after the first 911 call.
    After getting numerous complaints about 911, Mayor Martin Chávez ordered Padilla to conduct a review of the APD communications center.
    During a six-week review, Padilla discovered low morale, staffing levels that didn't coincide with the center's busiest times and that it took much longer for someone to pick up the phone at the 911 center than at the 311 center.
    "That's just not acceptable," Chávez said. "There is going to be a major change in how we do business at 911."
    In November, staffing at the 911 center was the lowest it had been in 25 years. Some employees were working 16 hours a day and everyone was working overtime.
    Padilla said 311 staffing has been consistent since its inception and call-takers earn $13.08 an hour. City officials also attribute 311's success to Padilla, a call-center consultant who has worked for MCI and General Electric.
    On Tuesday, 911 officials reported staffing was down 35 percent and there are nine people in training.
    City leaders said restructuring the center will improve staffing levels and attrition. Padilla said changes to shifts and schedules would improve morale and manpower.
    An increase in pay for dispatchers is not among the changes being proposed by the city. After six months, dispatchers earn more than $13.60 an hour.