Pactio Project

Why does it take the OPD so long to respond to phone calls?

By November 10, 2018 December 11th, 2018 No Comments
A 2017 audit showed that the Oakland Police Department Communications 911 Division is not meeting California requirements for how quickly emergency calls must be answered. (Photo by Jan Vašek/Pixabay)

We can confirm, it’s challenging to get in touch with the Oakland Police Department. In reporting this story, we were unable to get someone on the phone despite about a dozen calls and emails. And their media line voicemail box is actually full, so you can’t leave a message.

We did discover some answers. Here it is:

A 2017 audit shows the Oakland Police Department Communications 911 Division took an average of 21 seconds to answer calls to 911 and 27 seconds for calls to the emergency 10-digit number. California requires 95 percent of calls to be answered within 15 seconds.

Here are a few reasons for the slow response time:

Transfers. If you call 911 from a cellphone, the call goes to the California Highway Patrol dispatch in Vallejo first. The audit found this could increase emergency response time by three minutes. Calls from landlines in Oakland go directly to the Police Department dispatch. All emergency calls from the city are supposed to start going directly to the Oakland dispatch by the end of the year.

Understaffing. It is estimated that Oakland will need over 90 dispatchers on staff once calls start going directly to the city’s dispatch, and as of August, Oakland only had 67 dispatchers. The audit specifically mentioned a lack of staff as one cause for the slow response time. The Oakland Police Department had 15 dispatcher vacancies and six communication operator vacancies in August. The department’s records show they were in the process of hiring new dispatchers, but the audit found this process may be part of the problem. It can be a 20-week process just to recruit and screen someone to determine if they’re eligible before interviewing them.

More $$$. The city’s budget for 2018-19 allocated about $5 million for dispatch systems and record management systems for the police and fire departments. Next year, the budget will provide about $6 million. These are significant increase from the $400,000 it got for these systems in 2017-18.

To give you a better idea of where your $100 contribution went, our team spent five hours preparing this story. For additional reading, here are three articles we read in responding to your question:

1. Audit: Oakland police dispatchers slow to answer emergency calls

2. In Oakland, Shortage of 911 Dispatchers Makes a Hectic Job Even More So

3. Some Oakland 911 Callers Get The Runaround When Asking For Help

This answer was produced by Pactio and journalist Ashlyn Rollins. Now, it’s time for you to ask your question.

Incubated at Stanford University, Pactio reinvents the way local journalism is created by bringing together readers and journalists to discover and fund the stories they need and want to know about their community.