Austin council member raises the alarm on distressed 911 call center, long hold times
Only about two-thirds of 911 calls in Austin are being answered within 15 seconds, which well below the national standard
Residents of Austin, Texas, have been left waiting during emergency situations as a result of high staff vacancy rates. In the month of October, only 64.09% of 911 calls were answered within 15 seconds, well below the national standard of 90% in 15 seconds or less. The average hold time for more than 38,000 calls that have come in this month has been two-and-a-half minutes. All of this is happening as Austin's crime rate remains high.
Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly requested a briefing Tuesday on the city's distressed emergency communications center, which is struggling to field the thousands of 911 calls that come in every day.
Nearly half of the 105 operators positions in the 911 call center are vacant, while 19 out of 75 dispatcher positions are unfilled, according to Kelly.
"I have requested a briefing to discuss compression, pay, vacancies, [and] answer rates at the Emergency Communications Center," Kelly told Fox News Digital in a statement.
"Our dispatchers and call takers deserve to work in an environment that allows them to provide the highest level of service possible," Kelly said. "Austinites deserve a timely response and adequate staffing at the 911 call center and I look forward to determining the best pathway forward for our community."
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The Austin Police Department lowered minimum staffing requirements for its emergency communications division in August as it copes with "unprecedented vacancy rates."
A majority of telecommunications workers were logging 20 to 36 hours of overtime per week, a practice that an Austin police commander called "unhealthy and unsafe."
A spokesperson for the Austin Police Department said that in an effort to attract workers, compensation for 911 call takers has increased 26% to $22.85 per hour since the beginning of the year, while dispatcher pay has jumped 35% to $24.42 an hour.
"In an emergency, every second counts and our goal is to get callers the help they need as quickly as possible," the police spokesperson said.
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The Austin Police Department is dealing with understaffing as well, as there were 257 sworn vacancies at the end of August.
Prior to Kelly's time in office, the Austin city council voted unanimously in August 2020 to slash the Austin Police Department's budget by about one-third, leading to a large exodus of sworn officers. The council also canceled police cadet classes, which left APD unable to fill the open positions. At the time, Mayor Steve Adler and then-Council member Greg Casar touted the slashed funding as "reimagining" the department.
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The funding has since been restored to keep the city in accord with a state law passed in 2021.