Some council members have expressed concerns about potentially losing their neighborhood police officers.
(TNS) - Dallas is relying on its Police Department to help fill a staffing shortage at its troubled 911 call center.
The center has experienced sudden spikes in calls that have correlated with two tragic deaths and left hundreds of people on hold for emergency services. In addition to technological trouble, the mayor has blamed the problem on having too few 911 operators.
The Police Department is now temporarily assigning officers to the center to help until new call takers are hired, police said Monday.
“When you call 911, someone needs to be on the phone and someone needs to be on the way to resolve the issue,” said Dallas City Council member Adam McGough, who said he’s received complaints from constituents about long wait times.
Assistant Police Chief Paul Stokes said on Monday that he expects each of the department’s seven patrol divisions to assign a neighborhood police officer to the call center. Those officers will work for a period at the call center and rotate in and out as needed, he said.
Stokes said officers from the community engagement unit will fill in for the neighborhood police officers, which is what happens when one of those officers is sick or on vacation.
“We’re not abandoning the neighborhood,” Stokes said.
Some council members have expressed concerns about potentially losing their neighborhood police officers, who focus on crime prevention and relations with the community, to the 911 call center.
“That’s putting a Band-Aid on that issue and taking away from the community,” said Adam Medrano, who chairs the public safety committee.
But interim Police Chief David Pughes told council members that the neighborhood officers’ roles likely won’t change unless the 911 call volumes increase and more call takers are needed.
“We’re all in this together, and we’ve all got a part in this to ensure that we get calls answered in a timely fashion,” Pughes said.
McGough and other members of the council’s public safety committee expected to be briefed Monday about the 911 call center problems and any progress being made to remedy them. The city manager removed the briefing from the agenda, chairman Adam Medrano said. The council member didn’t explain why.
“It’s not something that’s sitting well with me right now,” Medrano said. “It’s an issue that a lot of folks want to talk about, to know what’s going on. And I think that that’s a disservice to the residents of the city of Dallas.”
Earlier this month, when 911 callers were on hold for extended periods of time, Dallas police brought in patrol officers to help answer 911 calls, which police officials said added to an already strained overtime budget.
The Police Department is dealing with its own staffing shortage and facing mounting pressure to reduce crime.
Police officials at Monday’s public safety meeting touted fewer homicides and sexual assaults so far this year compared to last year. But there has been an increase in aggravated assaults and business robberies, according to a crime report presented to the public safety committee.
Nearly 1,080 aggravated assaults were reported between January 1 and March 22, according to the report. About 930 assaults were reported in the same period last year.
Pughes said it has been a “constant battle” for the department to manage crime and deal with high attrition. There were 3,338 officers on the force about this time last year; now there are 3,210 officers, he said.
Since October, 208 officers have left the department, and roughly 350 are expected to leave by the end of the fiscal year. Only 80 new officers have been hired so far this fiscal year, Pughes said.
“This is about as low as we are going to be able to sustain and still begin to make a difference as it relates to crime and response time,” the chief told the public safety committee.
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