San Jose

San Jose Audit Recommends Robust Hiring to Support Understaffed Fire, Police Dispatchers

San Jose will work to streamline non-emergency and emergency phone calls after a city audit this week found firefighters and police dispatchers struggling to keep up with growing call volume amid staffing shortages.

The city has been grappling with the issue since 2017, when state regulators notified San Jose that its dispatchers were not meeting the minimum requirements for call answering time.

Fire and police dispatchers have since worked to bring their averages up to speed. The state required that 95 percent of 911 calls be answered within 15 seconds, and police and fire on average now respond to over 90 percent of calls within that time frame, compared to around 80 percent in 2017.

The city audit found this effort - though effective - has resulted in more than tripled overtime for dispatchers in the last 10 years amid growing populations and an increase in cellphone calls.

The City Council during its Tuesday meeting approved the audit and allocated room in the budget planning process to address these "chronic workload challenges" within the fire and police communication departments.

It also set in place plans to ensure non-emergency '311' calls don't clog up emergency dispatcher work, and are instead taken by other staff.

"Using highly trained and hard-to-hire and difficult-to-retain 911 call takers to handle non-emergency calls merely increases the workload and stress on overworked police communications team members, and constitutes an inefficient use of resources," Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a memo.

Moving forward, the city will also work on emergency texting services through Next Generation 911. The text-to-911 program would provide sound, image and location data unavailable through traditional channels, and further free up phone lines for dispatchers.

The model is already being used by police departments across the Bay Area, including in San Mateo County, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, and San Jose dispatchers are preparing the program's rollout, according to the audit.

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