Grand jury: Understaffing at 911 center puts first responders at risk

A California county grand jury found that deficiencies at Oakland's 911 center caused thousands of calls to go unanswered for up to two minutes

By Laura French

OAKLAND, Calif. — A grand jury has found that staffing deficiencies at a California 911 center put the public and first responders at risk. 

The Alameda County civil grand jury said in a report that 911 calls have gone unanswered for up to two minutes, falling short of the state's standard of 15 seconds, according to the East Bay Times.

In one case from last year, an Oakland police officer who was stabbed two blocks from the police station was unable to get through to a 911 dispatcher, according to the report. A garbage truck driver who noticed the officer calling for help was also unable to reach a dispatcher. The officer was ultimately driven to the hospital in a patrol car after calling a fellow officer who was in a building a mile away, and survived.

The report states that in 2019, nearly 40% of 911 callers in Oakland were unable to reach a dispatcher within 15 seconds and more than 18,000 waited more than two minutes for a dispatcher to respond. The jury also found that about 13,800 people hung up before their call could be answered. 

About 59 dispatchers are currently working at the center despite the city's police budget for fiscal year 2019-20 allocating $15.7 million for 74 dispatcher positions, a communications manager and seven supervisors, according to the report. Understaffing has reportedly led some dispatchers to work up to 80 hours of overtime in a month. 

The jury called for the Oakland Police Emergency Communications Center to establish a standard to answer 95% of its 911 calls within 15 seconds, recruit dispatchers until its vacancies are filled and publish quarterly reports about the center's performance on the city's website. The report also states the center has been using outdated technology in need of updates.

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