News : Overworked and Exhausted 911 Operators a Problem for Dallas
Dallas, TX, USA, Oct 29, 2015 -- There is no question 911 operators and dispatchers are critical to police and public safety. They act as the lifeline for people in desperate need of help.
"As a civilian, that is a lot of responsibility you are placing on a civilian person," said former operator and dispatcher Mike Multop.
That's why video obtained by News 8 is so disturbing. It shows Dallas police dispatcher asleep at her station.
"That is very dangerous, very dangerous," Multop said.
News 8 has learned the dispatcher had been working 16-hour shifts, seven days a week.
"If you are tired from working 16-hour shifts five days a week, you are not going to be alert enough," Multop said.
And he should know. He worked in the 911 dispatch center for more than 20 years. Due to the stress of the job, the industry standard is to provide a schedule of one hour on and one hour off.
But records obtained by News 8 for last month show some employees working four hours continuously before getting a break.
A shortage of dispatchers and operators combined with long hours is not a new problem.
One only has to remember a call from 2012; the voice of DeAnna Cook calling and begging for help.
Due to staffing shortages and exhausted 911 call takers and dispatchers, workers missed the urgency of the call. Instead of her rescue on tape, the call captured her murder.
"That is what makes it so tragic as the death of my sister to happen, and almost three years later, this is still a problem [...] which is the main thing they said they wanted to fix," Karletha Gundy said.
On a near-daily basis, according to our sources, there are not enough 911 operators and dispatchers to cover shifts. The only option is to work overtime.
Since January, the department has paid $500,000 in overtime for dispatchers and more than $1 million in overtime for 911 operators.
Sources tell us it isn't uncommon to be down five or six dispatchers per shift.
"It depends on what is taken seriously. If you think your public safety is important, then you will provide the resources that are available and necessary to make sure your citizens are protected," Gundy said.
Richard Todd, the head of the Fraternal Order of police, says the problem is retaining dispatchers and 911 operators and not hiring quickly enough when someone leaves. He blames City Hall for not providing enough funding to properly staff the Dallas Police Department.
"You are short-handed in patrol, you are short-handed in the investigative units, you are short-handed in dispatch. You can blame it on pay, or you can blame it on morale — or where does it end?" Todd asked.
When we contacted Dallas City Manager AC Gonzales for answers, he did not respond.
The Dallas Police Department says they're already in the process of hiring more operators, yet training will take a while.
In response to our story, the department told 911 dispatchers and operators they can no longer have phones or electronic recording devices in the call center.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, November 2, 2015