Who answers the calls for help from the Phoenix Police 911 operators?

Phoenix Police Department

The original location of the Phoenix Police Communications Bureau is in the headquarters. A second center is located in the city center with the Property Management Bureau.

A Phoenix 911 operator who recently recovered from COVID-19 has died after returning to work. And now the city is investigating how it handled overtime in their case. Pamela Cooper’s story is part of a larger question of who is answering 911 operators’ calls for help.

Pamela Cooper

Four days after Pamela Cooper was rushed to the hospital, Councilor Betty Guardado said, “Pamela’s shift should have been 10 hours, but she had to stay 15 hours because of chronic understaffing.”

The day after working 15 hours, Cooper collapsed at home.

“We need an independent investigation into our 911 call centers and accountability for the mistakes the city and those who made them have made,” Guardado said.

“I have made an effort to rid the police service center of COVID cases,” said Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960, the union that represents police officers and firefighters. “I have dispatchers in the police who work 15, 20, 25 hours a week overtime.”

“I have dispatchers in the police who work 15, 20, 25 hours a week overtime.”
– Frank Piccioli, President of AFSCME Local 2960

Address job vacancies

Phoenix has 51 job vacancies for police communications operators, which equates to a vacancy rate of more than 20%. The fire department has 11 shipping points open (an 11% vacancy rate), but six hires are expected to begin on March 8th.

Comparing salaries across the valley, Phoenix found that the minimum range ($ 44,158) and maximum range ($ 64,917) were below the valley city average, while the actual average salary ($ 55,356) was slightly above the valley average of $ 54,766. Tempe, Mesa, and Surprise have higher actual average salaries, with Tempe being the highest at $ 10,000 more than Phoenix.

In January, Phoenix HR director Lori Bays told the city’s public safety subcommittee that workload was also a concern.

“For example, if you can work for Phoenix and have to handle up to 200 calls a day, or if you can work for another city and have an average of 20 calls a day and make about the same amount of money, some of them our dispatchers have chosen “, she said.

Piccioli said calls are put on hold every day, usually one or two, but sometimes text photos of workers at work showing several more.

“I heard that calls were only put on hold for two minutes to five minutes. And five minutes of waiting for an emergency call. I mean, you can imagine that depending on the situation, ”he said.

The national standard set by the National Emergency Number Association that Phoenix follows is to answer 90% of 911 calls within 15 seconds. Phoenix says it responds 82% within 15 seconds.

Not just 911 calls

Police officers also take calls to Crime Stop, the non-emergency number used to report suspicious activity. During the January subcommittee meeting, Councilor Guardado said she heard voters complain about 30-minute crime freeze hold times.

“We don’t want to stop people from calling, like we want to make sure they keep reporting wrongdoing, while at the same time we want to make sure we can do better for our dispatchers,” she said.

Jeff Spellman of the Violence Impact Project Coalition expressed concern about the waiting times: “This is very, very frustrating for people trying to stand up for the neighborhood and block surveillance.”

He said when Crime Stop callers are put on hold, they sometimes hang up and call 911, adding stress to operators and potentially putting officers at risk.

“When dispatchers try to rush callers off the line, they don’t get all of the information they should be relaying to police officers,” he said.

Phoenix Police Communications Bureau statistics for 2020

Sky Schaudt / KJZZ

Source: Phoenix Police Department

Recommendations for working groups

In 2019, the Human Resources Department set up a 911 / Civilian Working Group with staff to find ways to help. After eight months of meetings, the group’s recommendations for improvements in workspace, staffing, recruitment, wellbeing and training were sent to City Administrator Ed Zuercher in May 2020.

Since then, HR has started streamlining the hiring process, and Zuercher recently announced that entry-level pay will be increased from March 8th. Piccioli said more money could attract new dispatchers, but keeping them is just as important. The burnout rate in the industry is usually seven to eight years.

“Experience is everything in this job,” he said. “You certainly learn to deal better as an experienced dispatcher than as a new dispatcher.”

Police communications operators answer more than 2 million calls annually. All emergency calls within Phoenix are made to the police emergency call center. From there, operators forward calls to Phoenix Fire and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. They also dispatch Phoenix officers to active scenes.

Dreary is the description often used for the operator’s work area, especially the second police department location in a building shared with the Property Management Bureau. Recommendations include replacing office equipment and adding treadmills for workstations, yoga balls, and combo sit-stand desks, as is the case with firefighters.

wide photo with missing ceiling panels

Frank Piccioli

Missing ceiling tiles will be visible in the Phoenix Police Communication Center in 2021.

For all operators / dispatchers, Phoenix has expanded the consultations that are available to employees at no additional cost. The change from 12 sessions per traumatic incident to 36 sessions per year reflects the number offered to sworn police and fire service personnel. Human Resources announced that the training has been revised to include somatic responses and self-care. Work is currently underway on a civilian career survival class similar to one for sworn officers.

The city also introduced pet therapy. Two K-9s are accompanying their handlers as they work in the communications office, and the city attempted an equine therapy pilot program which was well received. But Piccioli said visiting a horse farm was unrealistic when they are understaffed.

“How do you have the time to send a dispatcher when he demands overtime? And if I hold back six hours from a 10-hour shift, all I want to do is go to sleep, ”he said.

During last week’s council meeting, the city administrator responded to Guardado’s request for an investigation into what had happened to 911 operator Pamela Cooper.

“We will submit a report to you,” said Zürcher. “I asked the HR manager to fully review the facts of the situation.

Since the city pursues different recruiting strategies, this does not necessarily mean that qualified applicants will be added. Just like police officers, 911 drivers must pass background checks and be able to make critical decisions in quick, stressful situations.

The operator’s calls for help can be heard in the town hall. However, the response time for filling vacancies and other employee referrals remains unknown.

“The union mourns the family of our union sister. We will continue to fight on her behalf to end the constant overtime in her department and we will always remember her spirit. We will trace this as a line of too. ” Mandatory death as we feel like our sister has this at work. “Said Piccioli.

More stories from KJZZ

Comments are closed.