Dallas Morning News: Dallas police report improvements at troubled 911 Call Center, months after botched response to woman’s murder

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Vickie Cook, second from right, is comforted by a friend at the gravesite of her daughter, Deanna Cook, who was buried at Laurel Land Cemetery in August. Deanna Cook’s murder was recorded on a Dallas 911 line and officers who responded to her home nearly an hour later left when no one answered the door. Her family members found her dead in the house two days later. (Mona Reeder/The Dallas Morning News)

Update at 2 p.m.: Dallas police officials said the 911 Call Center has come a long way since multiple scandals that prompted massive reform efforts, including a huge hiring effort and improved equipment and technology.

“Over the last year we’ve had a number of issues with regard to 911,” said First Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. “There’s been an incredible amount of good work that has had a very positive impact.”

Officials highlighted some of the immediate changes that we reported in the weeks following Deanna Cook’s murder during a mishandled 911 call. Among those was the introduction of new call classifications to more quickly convey emergency situations to officers in the field.

Chief David Brown also noted that he cleaned house at the operation, transferring all of the commanders out and bringing in a new leadership team.

“These were sweeping changes, very difficult to accomplish,” Brown said. “The new team did a phenomenal job of getting on board.”

The police department hired 45 new call takers since September, increased their salaries, revamped training and instituted quality control measures. Officials said they are now fully staffed with more than 90 total call takers.

But Brown cautioned city leaders to wait and see how Call Center workers perform in the typically busy summer months. Only then will they have a more complete sense of how far they have come and what else may need improvement, he said.

Committee members appeared pleased with the progress report.

“We’ve come quite a ways in our system with what I’m hearing today,” Council member Sheffie Kadane said.

Original post at 7:30 a.m.: The beleaguered Dallas 911 Call Center is much improved since high-profile problems last year brought to light a chronically understaffed operation, according to a briefing Dallas police officials are scheduled to present this morning to City Council Public Safety Committee members.

According to the briefing, the police department has hired 45 call takers since Sept. 1, improved training and equipment and formed a “quality control team” to review random 911 calls every week. Additional supervisors also were permanently sent to the call center, the hiring process was streamlined and enhanced and “salaries were adjusted to better reflect area comparisons.”

All those changes and more were made despite Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s repeated insistence that the there was no staffing crisis at Dallas 911. That’s what Brown continued to say even after two ugly, highly publicized incidents in July and August.

Dallas Morning News investigation following those cases last year showed that that the 911 Call Center had been chronically understaffed for years and that exhausted 911 call takers were scrambling to help callers who were greeted at peak times with recorded messages telling them to wait for the next operator.

The first of two public controversies flared up during a house fire in the early morning hours of July 4. Numerous 911 callers reportedly heard recorded messages telling them to stay on the line for the next available operator.

Thirteen call takers were working. The department had scheduled 16 because of the holiday, but three called in sick.

No one was injured in the blaze, which led to calls from city leaders for improved technology at 911.

The next month, a woman who had called 911 to report that she was being attacked was found dead at her southern Dallas two days later by family members.

Police say Deanna Cook called 911 on Aug. 17 as her abusive ex-husband attacked her in her home.Cook was heard on the call choking and pleading for her life, but a 911 call taker did not pass critical details about the call on to dispatchers. Officers who got t the scene 50 minutes after the call left when no one answered the door.

Cook’s ex-husband, Delvecchio Patrick, was later arrested and charged with her murder.

Even as the chief insisted in the days and weeks following Cook’s death that there was no staffing crisis at Dallas 911, he replaced the leadership and ordered more than two dozen officers and sergeants be sent there on special assignment. Most of those officers have been returned to their normal jobs, according to the briefing.

Today’s briefing includes the acknowledgement that the Call Center was using a “staffing model out of alignment with call load” and that staff members suffered from “overtime fatigue.”

That is also noteworthy because Brown and his boss, First Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, maintained that they sufficiently addressed any potential staffing holes through use of overtime, a strategy that experts say is risky.

The changes have led to improved results, according to police. The established goal is to answer 90 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds. In August, the center was answering 75 percent of calls within 10 seconds, according to police statistics. By last month, that percentage has risen to more than 95 percent, police said.

Among other upgrades, according to the briefing scheduled for 11 a.m.:

– Work hour adjustments were made to supplement peak shifts on Friday and Saturday nights, resulting in more than 20 call takers on duty during peak call times.

– Overnight shift differential was increased for civilian staff members.

– A new standard requires that calls be answered after no more than two rings by either an a live 911 operator or a recorded message.

Source: Dallas Morning News

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