When Pamela Kennedy heard the flower pot on her window sill break, she froze.
It was 3:30 a.m. and an intruder was in her home. The 60-year-old nurse said she eventually made her voice as deep as possible and yelled, “What’s going on out there?” Then she called 911.
The city’s emergency response system froze, too. Kennedy waited five minutes and 28 seconds for an answer, then hung up. She called back and waited another two minutes and 38 seconds before talking to an emergency dispatcher for the first time.
By then, the intruder had taken off. Her terror had turned to shock. And anger.
“I thought, ‘Thank God I wasn’t having a heart attack,’” she said. “I’d be dead on the floor. Luckily, I didn’t – no, I just had an intruder in my home.”
The district attorney’s office later let her listen to the call. The sound of her voice – shaking, hollow – made her cry.
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Re: "That’s been changed, allowing people like Monica Munoz — a spokesperson for the city’s public works department — to moonlight as a 911 dispatcher."
Why is paying people OVERTIME cost effective when people want to do the job for regular pay?
@Founder the city considers this overtime vs. regular pay a "cost savings" measure because they don't have to pay people pensionable income on overtime pay. (see: 2017 budget summary). So employees work more, and over time, have less to show for it.
@lorisaldana — This is just one of a huge number of issues that taken together have the ability to transform the City of San Diego budget! I hope you will begin to start calling out your challengers for Mayor and educate voters why you are the only real choice for San Diego voters!
What's wrong with considering a regional, mutual aid approach as a starting point? Yes, there would be challenges but we need to break down all of the silos that have been built. Can you imagine the efficiencies of a "San Diego Metro" approach to public safety?
This is just further proof that the SDPD does critical life-threatening things badly. Converse about that.
I think we need a little clairification to this story as we are speaking of apples and oranges in a sense.
First, for San Diego PD the person who answers your 9-1-1 or non emergency phone call is typically called a "call taker" . Second, the person who speaks on the voice radio system and sends data to the field officer's mobile computer terminal or MCT is a "radio dispatcher".
Generally speaking call takers DO NOT talk on the radio, but dispatchers can answer incoming calls, IF they are in the call center. ( the radio dispatchers are in a separate space adjacent to the call center. )
While both jobs are very stressful, there is no doubt in my mind the job of radio dispatcher is much more difficult then those of call takers. As dispatchers are controlling multiple units and incidents simultaneously, while call takers typically handle one stressful incident at a time.
All of these employees are very talented folks and deserve our respect. All typically work changing shifts and differering days off as public safety service are 7/24/365 jobs. This alone takes its toll on each and every one of them.
While radio dispatching and managing multiple units is stressful, call takers go from zero to 100mph repeatedly during their shift, never knowing what's coming the instant they answer the phone. They must instantly determine the nature of the emergency, medical versus criminal versus fire versus lifeguard then forward on the call to the appropriate area for emergency response. If the call is for the police they must get the necessary facts from people who are in many instances hysterical. If it's a "HOT" - crime in progress - the call taker must alert a dispatch supervisor who now listens and assists in expediting the call.
All of happens hundreds of thousands times each year and yes delays however terrible will happen from time to time. There is NO WAY practical or affordable to guarantee 100% all of the time. But, can the city do better? Absolutely. Better, pay and retention of these highly trained employees is a must and will better serve the citizens and visitors to San Diego.
This situation reveals many issues and a general ignorance regarding the job of dispatcher and how the San Diego system works. Let me start with the system. First, there is only one system and three phone numbers, two of which are the non-emergency numbers. Dispatchers answer the non-emergency lines when there are no pending 911 calls. Also, both non-emergency numbers go to the same queue, so hanging up because of a long wait and calling the other non-emergency number only serves to put your call at the end of queue.
Next, the dispatchers. This is not a simple position to fill. The entry-level requirements are similar to those of the Police Department and include a background investigation and a medical exam. Candidates must not have any felony convictions on their record and no domestic violence charges. They also may not be on parole or probation. Add to that that they must be able to pass an entry-level Dispatching Test. Once a candidate gets through that gauntlet it takes about a year on the job to become fully proficient.
I do not know the percentage of applicants who make the grade and get from the application stage through that first year, but I'll bet the number is very small. So, now we have a trained, qualified Police Dispatcher. But wait a minute. How long do you think it takes before our new dispatcher figures out that just about every other person in the area with his or her skills and experience makes more money than our San Diego Police Department pays?
Here's another dilemma. We can't ever seem to get complete information out of our City Government. For example, in this case It is helpful to know average, maximum, and minimum wait times, but more information is required to have a complete picture. Anyone who is familiar with statistics knows that mean, median, mode, and standard deviation are a minimum set of descriptors required to know anything important about a dataset. The way those terms are expressed so we can all use the information might be in terms of how many times callers waited each of a specific set of times, what is the most common wait time (mode). It would be good to know any factors that complicate (skew) the data. and finally, it would certainly be refreshing to know why our City leaders think that after years of effort to get more dispatchers we are still far short of these talented people. It has been said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time is a sign of insanity.
I think it's time that San Diego stops the insanity and gets serious about elevating these vital positions to a level that will sustain the level of service we all expect.
In my experience I've generally found it faster to call the non-emergency number, at least if all you needed was the police.
One thing should happen immediately: any wait time over one minute? two minutes? should be immediately flagged for senior management attention, in real time. Information on 911 operators on duty and number of calls should be included. With a high volume of calls, outlier problems will not be noted otherwise. In addition, what about making an opportunity for retired annuitants or others who would bring life experience and maturity to the job and might be able to use some extra income?
@Julie Wright While it is a great idea to try to hire retired people it is not practical for this job. This job is highly stressful and the operator must be able to do multiple things at once...we call it multifunctional dexterity at my agency. I had a friend sit with me once and he said you have to be an octupus because you need to be able to talk on the phone, work the radio, the computer, keep up with what is going on in the zones around you that might have an effect on your zone, keep your supervisor up to date on any 'hot' calls you are working. Not putting seniors down because I am one, as we age our responses to situations tend to slow down
As Ed Price writes, you are individually responsible for your own well being, your own self defense. Deciding to be prepared to defend one's life against those that would take it is a personal, value driven evaluation. There are practical and efficient tools available for self defense, called personal firearms, when escape and evasion will not work. The responsibility is great, and the results can be rewarding. Many in this state would restrict personal choice in the use of firearms to defend individual rights. You get to decide it for yourself, at least for the moment.
@Bill Stoops Being responsible for self defense doesn't assist the family whose child is choking, the accident victim pinned in her car, or the swimmer who got cut by a boat propeller.
@DavidM @Bill Stoops Thanks for stating the obvious. The story headline addresses two home invasion issues. Escape and evasion can mitigate the presence of a home invader, but if that isn't possible, then you have a choice you can make, to perhaps be a victim or take some action to defend yourself. Of course 911 calls concern other incidents, but please consider the headline. The story is pointed at a particular threat that can be mitigated by other means than helplessly sitting with a phone in your hand, or complaining about government services being inadequate. Accept personal responsibility for your own safety when you can, and are able.
Mr. Stoops: Can you cite any evidence that demonstrates that having a gun in your house makes you and your family safer? All I've heard is anecdotal information. Meanwhile, I regularly read about people shooting other family members, kids injuring themselves or others, suicides, etc. You may recall that when Harry Mathis pulled a gun to defend himself in a La Jolla home invasion several years ago, the criminal took the gun and Mr. Mathis is a former Navy captain as I recall.
I don't disagree with your basic premise - each of us is in some way responsible for our own personal security on a moment by moment basis - but the article also discussed the family who waited on hold, twice, after their son was mauled. Headlines are intended to be click-bait, not necessarily the focus of the article. The story is 911 wait times, and peripherally it's the definition of "outlier" as that term is used by City employees. It is not about whether personal safety is enhanced during a home invasion by having ready access to a firearm.
Why the bureaucratic need to make a 911 response dispatcher a sworn officer and to put a physical fitness requirement on the quintessential desk job? The primary trait needed in a 911 dispatcher is someone who can remain calm and rational in the face of a frightened, demanding, irrational caller, assess the situation and create the proper response. I don't see a need to prove that a dispatcher can haul hose up 5 stories, climb fences or run a hundred yards. This type of position could be filled by handicapped civilians and/or police and firefighters who, because of injuries or limitations, might otherwise be forced into medical retirement. Let's intelligently define the true needs of the dispatcher positions.
@Ed Price While it is a great idea to try to hire retired and / or handicapped people it is not practical for this job. This job is highly stressful and the operator must be able to do multiple things at once...we call it multifunctional dexterity at my agency. I had a friend sit with me once and he said you have to be an octupus because you need to be able to talk on the phone, work the radio, the computer, keep up with what is going on in the zones around you that might have an effect on your zone, keep your supervisor up to date on any 'hot' calls you are working. Not putting seniors down because I am one, as we age our responses to situations tend to slow down
@Ed Price if you bothered to actually look up the requirements to be selected to be a 911 dispatcher you would have seen that they don't haul hoses, climb fences or run a hundred yards. They get a physical and a drug test. http://www.911dispatcheredu.org/california/san-diego/#requirements
Looks like we have to modify that old saying: In San Diego, when you need help in seconds, the dispatchers could be just a few minutes away, followed by the first responders, who are also a few minutes more away. It's always a shock for people to be taught that they are responsible for their own safety in that interval between detection and official response.
There is no reason that an automated system cannot have data available on those "outlier" wait times. A curious and competent administrator would want to know data like that, and if that data isn't already being studied monthly, then the admin is not competent, and it's time to find a competent admin. A secondary question is why Zimmerman ALWAYS tries to hide performance data; she wants the public to "trust her'" but when pressed for information, she either says she will not release it or she will have to figure out how to find the information, or maybe that the information just doesn't exist. This reflexive position has made me very skeptical of anything she says.
Let's see. Positions supposedly available but unfilled because of delays in application processing and delays in training. Applicants most likely to meet standards apply elsewhere, where there is higher pay and retirement. And finally, after all these years of operating 911, nobody knows how much staffing is needed to provide optimum response times. The bottom line here is money. It's not a problem of government being unable to do the job. It's the problem of starving city services by investing in less essential priorities. I have an idea. Let's take the billion-dollar plus investment the Mayor and Council want us to make in the Chargers and negotiate an ownership interest for the City that will enhance our budget and help cover essential services. And if shared ownership is non on the table, what say we walk away and let the Chargers pay for their own stadium so they can keep all the profits.
Govt delivers poor quality services in all areas because they lack competition which is what improves quality. Without competition, there's no reason to work hard and improve. In fact, if you don't work hard in the government you are rewarded with more money and more co-workers. You just scream about being underfunded and non-existent cuts. People are lazy so few will even question this claim. Plus remember, it's virtually impossible to get fired from a government job. So why sweat it?
Anyone who relies on government is in for a disappointment and as this story conveys it could be a deadly mistake if it's for protection or medical treatment. Better strategy is to plan for your own personal safety with mace, taser and gun and if you need medical treatment, transport yourself or the person you care about to a medical treatment center.
Mr. Robertson: As one who worked in government and who delivered very high levels of service, I find this statement flatly insulting. My experience with 9-1-1 operators is that they are extraordinary professionals doing a very stressful job with aplomb. As is the case in private business, there are high and low performers. Considering your tawdry history of using the intellectual property of others without their permission for personal gain, I have no idea why you feel license to pontificate about the work ethic of others. Look to yourself for redemption before you turn your broad brush toward others.
@Chris Brewster Where we agree is that in private business there are high and low performers. In private business though low performers are fired. In government they are not. In private business high performers are rewarded so you get more of them and in government they are not so you get less high performers.
What is true is that animals respond to incentives and disincentives. Incentives encourage positive behavior. Remove incentives and you'll get less effort. If animals receive the same benefits whether they work or not, most will choose not to work. This is true for all animals (dogs, cats, cows, horses, humans, etc).
The reason government services are low quality is that unions have outlawed incentives. You don't get more money or bonuses if you do a good job. Unions have structured it so your salary is based solely on years on the job. In fact the opposite is true. If you do a crappy job you are rewarded with more money and more staff.
Similarly they have removed disincentives meaning it's virtually impossible to get demoted or fired. So there's no incentive to work or disincentive to not work so people get lazy. This is in stark contrast to the business world where 5 million people get fired every year for lots of reasons including doing low quality work.
Teachers, firemen, cops, hairdressers, accountants, factory workers, politicians, etc are all the same because we're all animals. The notion that government workers are better than the average worker is false as is the notion that they're worse than the average worker. The stark difference is government lacks competition and incentives which encourage positive behavior.
Watch this 911 scandal. Nobody will get fired. Nobody will get demoted. They'll get more money and more staff which only exacerbates the problem.
One request: please argue ideas using facts, logic and reason and not do personal attacks. Thanks!
You lost the argument with facts, logic and reason when you take a high stress public service employee and pretend they can be trained like a family pet or a seal at Sea World. Animals in the wild have no incentive or disincentive other than food and reproduction. Humans have the capacity to ignore disincentives.
I'm no union fan, particularly public sector unions and their enormous political clout. Private sector unions actually take a role in weeding out bad employees, updating training, and promotion through work ethic. That would be a better argument: IBEW versus ASCME.
@DavidM @Michael Robertson @Chris Brewster Where we agree is that humans have more incentives than food and reproduction. Humans covet personal belongings, stature, praise, more relaxation time, entertainment, etc. Humans are smart enough to know that they can achieve those by acquiring more money. They do that by performing work. Unfortunately as I pointed out the way government unions are structured you cannot make more or less depending on your work effort so that inverses incentives.
Government workers are not "high stress" anymore than any other profession. Everyone has responsibilities whether they manage a Popeyes or clean teeth or repair potholes.
Can you tell me more about private unions vs government unions and why you think they're different? I'd like to learn more.
Mr. Robertson: The problem with your argument is that it is not based on facts. I ran a City of San Diego government division with about 250 employees for many years. I approved the firing of full time and part time workers. Quite a number of them actually. It wasn't easy or pleasant, but it was essential to ensure a quality operation. So the bottom line is that your argument is false.
With respect to the situation with the 9-1-1 operators, if there is a scandal it is that those who pushed Proposition B, which eliminated pensions and froze salaries did so with the assertion that it would not impact service. In this case, it most clearly has done so. I have worked with police dispatchers and 9-1-1 operators and I can say with utmost sincerity that these are some of the most competent, dedicated employees you will find. The problem is that there aren't enough of them and the reason is that you can't recruit effectively in the private or public sector if you are offering pay and benefits below those of your competitors.
As for your request to avoid personal attacks, look back to your original comment stating that government provides poor service. That is an attack on all government workers implying they are lazy and incompetent. In your case, I believe there is documented evidence of lack of ethics in your manner of doing business. I think the latter is more provable than the former. People in glass houses.
@Chris Brewster What city division did you manage and how many people did you fire of the 250 over what time frame? What percentage per year? How does that compare with the free market turnover?
If you want to argue that government union workers can be fired that's a position that is easily rebutted by ample data.
You attribute every government failing to lack of spending. This is what liberals do. It's never about incompetence. It's always about more money. No government program is ever enough. Every government failing in San Diego is due to changes in changing the retirement program so it doesn't bankrupt the city like union retirements have done in Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.
Please don't mischaracterize my position. I'm not attacking government workers. I'm saying that ALL WORKERS when inserted into a system with no positive incentives and no disincentives will do a crappy job. This is the nature of humans.
Government works are neither specially dedicated or lazy. They're just people like everyone else and incentives matter.
Mr. Robertson: I think we are probably at the end of this conversation. I've advised that I did fire numerous people. You've stated that, "If you want to argue that government union workers can be fired that's a position that is easily rebutted by ample data." All of my employees were union represented. This is a circular discussion. If you don't believe me it is your option.
You stated, "You attribute every government failing to lack of spending." I have said nothing of the sort.
You assert a view that government is inefficient because of nature of human beings is that when they are placed in a system with no positive or negative incentives, they will do a poor job. You assume there are no positive or negative incentives in government employment, which was not the case in my division. There were many. It also assumes that human beings lack the willingness to do good work because it is the right thing to do. That's a pretty cynical view of humanity. It's no doubt true of some, but your broad generalities are not, in my experience, accurate. There are plenty of workers who simply believe that in exchange for fair pay they should and will do a good job.
@Chris Brewster Mr Brewster: Where we agree is that there are other incentives besides money like smiley face stickers, employee of the month plaque, special parking spot but none work with the effectiveness of financial gain or the threat of termination for non-performance.
You claim that your government division was similar to the free market that sees about 10% turnover per year. I doubt that highly and when i ask for actual data you refuse to provide it. This is because we both know it's simply not true. It's nearly impossible to get fired from a government job by design. That's what the unions negotiate.
You believe my views are cynical but they are not - it's just reality. It's exactly why capitalism works and socialism doesn't. People act out of self-interest not altruism. If they have an opportunity to get more and do less they will take it. This is not a cynical view, it's a rational view. They want the best for themselves and their family. There's nothing wrong with that. Economic systems which factor that in will outperform those that do not.
Mr. Robertson: I do not agree with your first paragraph. I did not make the claim mentioned in your second paragraph. With respect to your last paragraph, you digress. We are not discussing the merits of socialism versus capitalism. I would disagree with you about much of that as well, but it's immaterial.
@Chris Brewster Ah but we are discussing the merits of socialism vs capitalism. 911 is a socialist program run by the government thus it will have low production and low quality just as if the government had a monopoly on making bread or gasoline.
A private solution will always be superior because incentives are aligned. If you want to improve 911, then outsource it to private companies who produce high quality or lose their contract. There would be no 5-10 minute wait times!
Here's some thought provoking videos for you:
Why not private police? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuTPArh0-Tc
Private governance is all around us and far superior to governance as we know it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiFWiGdLwE8
Also enjoy our debates.
Mr. Roberston: Good luck pushing that point of view. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/rampage/wp/2016/02/05/millennials-have-a-higher-opinion-of-socialism-than-of-capitalism/
@Chris Brewster If your point is that government run schools push the notion that government run everything is better then we agree. As we already discussed, people are self-interested. Teacher's spend a massive amount of time with kids so that's a mighty large force to overcome.
But I don't fashion my beliefs accordingly to what is popular. If I did, I wouldn't rail against the massive rip-off which is college today as just one example.
I don't know if it's still the case, but in the recent past, 911 calls on cell phones were actually routed through the CA Highway Patrols' emergency operators, and they were staffed at even lower ratios. I've been on hold for more than 8 min and 13 min on cell phone calls when trying to report a drunk driver and a serious road hazard (the hood of a car, which blew off a junkyard car being transported on a semi). In both cases, I gave up and hung up. So my advice is that if you have access to a land line, call 911 from that instead.
Frankly, it would be good if there were a dedicated number to report incidents that are "lower grade" emergencies (such as the road hazard and maybe even drunk drivers) to allow the 911 number to be used for "imminent threat" issues (like a medical emergency or crime in progress, such as an intruder in one's home).
@EducatedMom I agree. And I think there are a lot of non-emergency calls going to 911. There should be a campaign to educate the public on what is an appropriate 911 call and what other numbers are available for non-emergencies.
@SherryS @EducatedMom On the other side of that though, Sherry, I had a client several years ago who called the non-emergency line after she was threatened with a knife by her tenant. She got a call back from the dispatched officer who said that as long as she was out of the house he would not be responding and the remedy is a restraining order. When we tried to complain we were told that, "well, she DID make it a non-emergency."
I would think that the fastest wait times might be for a regional 911 center in light of the number of calls made via cell phones.
Also, the CHP non-emergency wait time is as bad as SDPD non-emergency wait time. We're 'talking' 40 minutes minimum on hold.
You can thank "pension reform" for this problem. It made San Diego uncompetitive with other public agencies that hire emergency dispatchers. If you freeze pay for five years, then tell people there is no pension in San Diego, but there is a pension in every other nearby government that hires these people, this is your result. Many who opposed the San Diego increase to the minimum wage argued that there would be an exodus of businesses to nearby cities with lower wages. Perhaps, but there's little question that if you offer less attractive pay, benefits, and working conditions, you will have recruiting problems.
"Overworked and understaffed" is government-speak for "incompetently managed".
Here in Tijuana, our emergency line (066) is answered courteously by the second ring. They do not chastise you for reporting a non-life-threatening emergency, they're happy to receive all kinds. In fact, if they hear you speaking English, they patch you through immediately to the Secretariat for Tourism's help line (078), which speaks English around the clock.
Recently, though, our fake and thoroughly incompetent president made the executive decision to change our emergency line to 911, just like yours. His entire cabinet has been complaining of too much work and too little staff to accomplish the basics of their Constitutional mandates, so it looks like our citizens with emergencies might soon be in the same boat as are our friends in Trumpland. Oh, joy!
Some quick math: With 1.4 million calls, if we assume this average "outlier" hold time was 3 minutes, then it would take an additional 7,500 "outliers" to increase the average time by 1 second. That's a lot of people not getting through, not just a few unfortunate callers.
The data for "on hold" likely excludes calls that never went through, making the story even worse. Two weeks ago we called 911 at least 6 times for a fire before we even got through - it would ring 3-5 times and then switch to a busy signal and disconnect. Guessing we're not in the on-hold data. There's an underlying technology problem here in addition to personnel.
@David Lynn I was running those numbers in my head while reading as well. 1.4 million calls and the emphasis is on average wait time and working to the "national standard." You can have 2/3 of calls within that standard, and 1/3 of a minute or more above standard. There's too many different ways for the math to work out where the "outliers" are actually a significant number of the actual calls. Focusing on averages is the lazy way out.