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.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said.

That was in Bankers Hill in September.

Two months later, in her home near the La Jolla Country Club, the same thing happened to “Heather” – VOSD agreed not to use her real name to maintain her privacy.

At 2:30 a.m., she woke to an intruder in her room. She yelled to her stepdad, who came out of his room and scared the intruders out the front door.

He called 911 and waited four minutes and 40 seconds before speaking to a dispatcher.

Ironically, the long wait didn’t prevent the police from catching the suspect.

Assuming they didn’t have much time to flee, the two intruders hid under neighbors’ cars instead of running away. The cops arrived quickly, and found them both. The pair had broken into a home in Pacific Beach earlier that night, too.

We’ve previously investigated emergency response times – the clock for those numbers begins after calls are picked up. But now, San Diego’s emergency dispatch system – where the calls get answered to set a response in motion – is in crisis.

People in life-threatening situations are waiting minutes to let someone know they’re in danger.

The police department has acknowledged the issue, emphasizing that its monthly averages for 911 wait times now routinely pass 10 seconds, higher than the department’s standard.

The national standard is for 90 percent of calls to be answered within 10 seconds, and 95 percent within 20 seconds.

When Kennedy needed help in September, the average wait time was 17 seconds. When an intruder came into Heather’s home in November, the average 911 call rang for 16 seconds before it was answered.

But average response times are at best incomplete, and at worst misleading.

You can have a relatively low average time even with extremely long waits on just a few calls. Emergency call times spike in rare instances and for relatively short periods. Given the monthly volume of calls the department receives, extreme waits have small effects on the monthly average.

Yet that average monthly wait time is little comfort if you’re one of the outliers.

Six weeks ago, Voice of San Diego made a public records request for the number of times the 911 response time surpassed five minutes and 10 minutes, respectively, over the previous six months. SDPD has not yet provided those records.

Nonetheless, it acknowledges that excessive waits like Kennedy’s happen. It just doesn’t know how often.

“The fact that five-minute wait times occur, we acknowledge that,” said San Diego Police Department spokesman Scott Wahl. “We aren’t denying it – but last year we had 1.4 million calls. Unfortunately, those outliers occur. They are extremely rare, with the total call volume we receive.”

But it’s impossible to tell just how rare without the records, which SDPD says it will eventually provide.

A New Old Problem

Two weeks ago, a Mira Mesa family drove its wounded infant to the hospital after two 911 calls went unanswered for 30 seconds each. The family’s startled dog had bitten the infant, who was declared dead at the hospital.

An Allied Gardens family in March waited seven minutes for a 911 response while its garage was on fire.

In response to public outcry following the infant death, the San Diego Police Department has acknowledged its average emergency response wait times have breached its goal of an average wait time below 10 seconds.

“We’re going through a period where we aren’t where we need to be for public safety, or for our standards,” Wahl said. He said the department had historically achieved its 10-second goal.

SDPD’s emphasis on average wait times, however, obscures the problem’s most frightening consequences.

Dispatchers could answer calls quickly for 23 and a half hours of the day and have low average waits, regardless of what happens in the other 30 minutes of the day. But if you call in that half hour, the average wait time is no comfort.

In other words, a seven-second increase in average wait times does not mean each caller waited an average seven seconds longer. Instead, waits spike for short periods, and the effects are felt by the unlucky few who experience an emergency during those periods.

“I’m acknowledging that two-minute, five-minute, seven-minute wait times, those do occur,” Wahl said.

One question is how often they occur, and another is whether that’s more frequent than it used to be. Wahl said the department does not know. He said the focus is on average waits, not eliminating outliers.

Chris Carver, operations director for the National Emergency Number Association, said 911 wait times of four and five minutes are so far outside the scope of what’s reasonable, they will spike the department’s averages on their own.

“It should be incredibly infrequent,” he said. “There are very few communities in the United States where you hear of consistent outlier times for 911 calls. This is a challenge that most communities have figured out how to address successfully.”

It’s impossible to completely eliminate excessive waits, he said. If an oil tanker explodes on a highway or a tornado touches down, calls will surge to points that dispatchers sometimes cannot handle. But random moments when call times spike without a clear instigator are exceedingly rare.

“If they weren’t, my phone would be ringing off the hook,” he said. “I can safely say that dramatically extensive 911 call hold times are not prevalent across the country.”

Overworked, Understaffed

SDPD has roughly 20 unfilled emergency dispatcher positions out of the 130 in the city’s budget.

Wahl said the department is trying to fill those positions as quickly as possible to deal with the increase in wait times.

But recruiting, vetting, hiring and training officers takes time.

Mike Zucchet, general manager for the city’s white-collar union, the Municipal Employees Association, which represents dispatchers, said the multi-step process winnows away would-be applicants.

The city might receive 1,000 applications for 20 openings, Zucchet said. But 500 might not meet minimum qualifications, and another 200 might fail a test the city gives called CritiCall, used to see whether applicants can handle the high-stress job.

After background checks, a fitness test and polygraph, more candidates drop out. Of those who remain, many will have found other work in the meantime. The city could end up sending 10 applicants into training, from which only six will emerge ready to start.

In all that time, the city might have lost that many existing dispatchers.

The city hasn’t been able to reach its budgeted staffing levels for three years. The city for three years has exercised its right to force dispatchers at times to work overtime just to maintain the service levels it offers today.

“This has been the story throughout mandatory overtime,” Zucchet said. “They say, ‘We have these applicants,’ but then all of those things conspire to make those very difficult positions to fill.”

The city has taken some steps to fill the gap. Mayor Kevin Faulconer authorized Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to do polygraphs and background checks for dispatchers separate from sworn officers, which sped up the process. Dispatcher positions are now perpetually open – the city doesn’t need to re-open the position at certain times.

Police officers can now work overtime to fill dispatch positions. And before January, city staffers who are former 911 dispatchers and now work in other departments couldn’t work overtime manning emergency calls. That’s been changed, allowing people like Monica Munoz — a spokesperson for the city’s public works department — to moonlight as a 911 dispatcher.

“It just depends on my schedule, but I’ll do five-hour shifts on weekends and a couple hours a night on some weekdays,” she said. “The police department called me in January and asked if I could help, since I’m already trained.”

All of the city’s dispatchers also recently received $1,000 merit bonuses. Faulconer went to the 911 dispatch center to announce the bonuses.

“That’s the stuff that hadn’t been happening until Faulconer got personally involved,” Zucchet said.

Dispatchers have already negotiated raises, but they don’t take effect until 2018, after the five-year pay freeze mandated by the city’s pension reform measure runs its course. That measure has also made San Diego’s the only dispatchers in the county who don’t get pensions.

Yet hiring for the open positions might not solve the problem.

“Does filling 21 positions make this problem go away? Not necessarily,” Wahl said. “Does it mean there’s never going to be a long wait? I don’t know.”

Wait times spike for a number of reasons, he said.

Dispatchers are staffed based on typical call volumes at a given time. If calls surge when there aren’t many dispatchers on staff, wait times could go up.

But wait times could also get longer even if there aren’t that many calls, but the calls that do come in are overly complicated. Maybe multiple callers don’t speak English, or there are a handful of calls that take 15 minutes each, keeping dispatchers from clearing other calls on the line.

During the 30-minute period covering Kennedy’s break-in, calls didn’t even spike that much, Wahl said. There were 47 total calls, 23 of which were emergencies.

“The tendency is to say, ‘There was a surge in calls,’ or, ‘We are understaffed,’” Wahl said. “But it’s so hard to find a comparative analysis that says why wait times went up at a given time.”

Carver, the national 911 expert, said a surge in average call times is an invitation to figure out what’s going wrong. It might be overall staffing. It might be poor shift scheduling with the people available.

Zucchet, likewise, wonders what the right staffing level is in the first place. It’s an excellent question that has been on the back burner, he said, because the city can’t fill existing positions anyway, so it wouldn’t matter if the mayor budgeted for any additional ones.

“I think it’s fair to say that if we filled the budgeted positions, we could eliminate mandatory overtime and get back to a sense of equilibrium,” he said.

Wahl said the department’s first priority is to get to the 131 budgeted positions it has. After that, it would like to reach 2008’s staffing level, when there were 141 emergency dispatchers.

But in 1989, the city employed significantly more 911 operators – 171 total.

It’s hard to interpret the long-term reduction in 911 staffing, Wahl said. On one hand, that was before cell phones, and the department now receives many more emergency calls because people have phones on them all the time. If there’s an accident on the freeway, a half dozen people might call it in. In the past, someone would have needed to drive to the next exit and call from the gas station.

At the same time, the city’s emergency dispatch system has likewise improved with technological advances. Fewer dispatchers are needed.

“What’s important to understand for the public is, this has the full attention of the police chief and the mayor,” Wahl said.

Not everyone is so sure.

With June’s primary election approaching, Democratic mayoral candidate Ed Harris – also head of the city’s lifeguard union – and independent challenger Lori Saldaña have leapt on the issue.

Harris said Faulconer has let the issue fester for too long, and the changes he’s made are by definition not enough until they’ve ended the problem.

“It has to be a priority – and if it’s a priority, it doesn’t exist for three years,” he said. “They’re telling us they can’t handle a spike in emergency calls, when every other dispatch station in the country is able to handle that.”

Zimmerman, Harris said, is failing. Her response to the problem has been to emphasize the above-standard wait times, and to hide the exceptionally long waits.

“She’s going to such measures to protect (Faulconer) that she isn’t protecting the public,” he said. “She’s gotten to a place where she’s precariously close to losing all confidence from the public.”

Heading to the Beach

After the break-in, Kennedy asked her landlord to put bars on her window. He refused, and her daughter persuaded her it was time to move.

Her son said she should buy a shotgun. That way, she could cock the gun if someone was in the house and scare off the intruder. She didn’t do that, but she did move to a new apartment in Ocean Beach.

She came here two and a half years ago after spending her life until that point in El Centro.

She’s floored by what happened to her, but said she was happy to share the story, in hopes it would force action from the city.

“I’m a nurse,” she said. “My mission in life is to help people.”

Ry Rivard contributed to this report.

    This article relates to: 911, Must Reads, Police, Public Safety

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

    Founder subscriber

    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?

    lorisaldana subscriber

    @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.

    Founder subscriber

    @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!

    Robert LaRose
    Robert LaRose

    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?

    rhylton subscriber

    This is just further proof that the SDPD does critical life-threatening things badly. Converse about that.

    Robert Davis
    Robert Davis

    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.

    Ted Brengel
    Ted Brengel

    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.

    Bryan Borich
    Bryan Borich subscriber

    In my experience I've generally found it faster to call the non-emergency number, at least if all you needed was the police.

    jona subscriber

    Go Chargers. It seems our city politicians have higher priorities then you and I.

    Julie Wright
    Julie Wright subscribermember

    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?

    Janet Brown
    Janet Brown

    @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

    Founder subscriber

    Janet — If the person can do the job, they should be offered the position, Senior or not.

    Bill Stoops
    Bill Stoops

    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.  

    DavidM subscriber

    @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.

    Bill Stoops
    Bill Stoops

    @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.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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. 

    DavidM subscriber

    @Bill Stoops @DavidM Several years ago a friend was subjected to a home invasion robbery.  She described speed and ferocity that are difficult to plan for with a safely stored firearm.  

    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.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    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.

    Janet Brown
    Janet Brown

    @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
    Ed Price

    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.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    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.

    Ed Price
    Ed Price

    Nurse Kennedy has my moral authorization to help burglars...into the next life if necessary.

    FrontPorch subscriber

    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. 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    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. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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!

    DavidM subscriber

    @Michael Robertson @Chris Brewster  "What is true is that animals respond to incentives and disincentives."

    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.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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. 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @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. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Robertson: Yes. My only point is that the view of socialism as a great evil is fading.

    EducatedMom subscribermember

    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).

    SherryS subscriber

    @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.

    DavidM subscriber

    @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.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber


    Dear Moms,

    Also, the CHP non-emergency wait time is as bad as SDPD non-emergency wait time. We're 'talking' 40 minutes minimum on hold.


    Cauliflower Ear

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    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. 

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    "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!

    David Lynn
    David Lynn subscribermember

    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.

    DavidM subscriber

    @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.