Mo. mayor offers $2.5K call taker hiring bonus to reduce 911 hold times
Kansas City Mayor Mayor Quinton Lucas hopes bonus will increase the number of call takers, help city meet national standards for answering 911 calls
By Robert A. Cronkleton
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During his fifth State of the City Address Wednesday, Mayor Quinton Lucas said he has proposed $2,500 hiring and retention bonuses for all 911 call takers and dispatchers to address the Kansas City Police Department’s lagging 911 hold times problem.
“We have to have call takers who answer 911 when our residents call,” Lucas said. He also proposed the incentive be applied to other civilian employees of the police department. Lucas is also proposing pay raises for all Kansas City police officers and a 30% bump in the starting salaries for new officers.
In a story published online Tuesday, The Star reported the Kansas City Police Department is the only public safety agency in the metro area that fails to meet national standards when it comes to answering 911 calls, and questioned whether higher pay may be a solution.
The 911 hold times problem isn’t new, and the department has long explained staffing problems and high call volume have led to the delays. Its communications unit has had dozens of unfilled positions for months and has been talking about the problem for years.
To understand how the staffing problem might be influenced by the starting pay offered to employees answering 911 calls, The Star reached out to several of the larger public safety agencies in the regional 911 system to compare pay with the Kansas City Police Department.
Kansas City, at $20.48 an hour, fell on the lower end of starting salaries among the public safety agencies The Star asked for information. That’s despite the fact that Kansas City has the largest call volume.
“I also call on my colleagues charged with managing the police department, those appointed by the Governor to the Board of Police Commissioners, to expeditiously complete the salary review of all positions and adjust 911 call taker and dispatcher salaries to among the top in our region, as we are proposing today with police officers, so that no one, ever in the future has to wait on hold when calling 911 and facing potentially one of the greatest emergencies in their lives,” Lucas said.
This comes as Kansas City’s 911 problem has continued to worsen.
National groups encourage 90% of calls to be answered within 15 seconds and 95% answered within 20 seconds.
In May, just under 41% of Kansas City’s 911 calls, or two out of five, were answered in 15 seconds, according to the Mid-America Regional Council.
In December, the latest month available, fewer than 63% of 911 calls handled by the Police Department were answered within 15 seconds.
In contrast, every other agency in the regional 911 system met the national standards in December.
The budget will be formally presented to the City Council on Thursday.