Staffing issues plaguing Fort Worth 911 call center, causing slow or delayed responses

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An understaffed 911 call center has led to slow or delayed responses to some Fort Worth residents who are trying to reach emergency services, police said Tuesday.

Fort Worth police also noted that COVID pandemic restrictions caused the hiring process of new call-takers to be complicated and slowed down in the past few months.

“Because of this, staffing in our call center has not been able to keep pace with employee attrition and our rapid population growth,” according to a statement released by Fort Worth police Tuesday afternoon. “This has led to understaffing issues which have, in some limited cases, translated to a slowed or delayed response to our citizens who are attempting to reach emergency services.”

KXAS-TV reported a Fort Worth mother called 911 last week after her 2-year-old daughter, Mila, stopped breathing, and nobody answered.

“Honestly I thought my baby was dying in my arms,” Jamie Haswell told KXAS-TV.

Eventually, one of Haswell’s neighbors drove her and Mila to the hospital. Mila was diagnosed with a febrile seizure, and she’s doing fine.

“We apologize for this disservice and recognize that 911 services must remain intact, especially in the face of difficult challenges,” Fort Worth police said in their statement.

Police did not release the number of call-takers on staff as of Tuesday when asked by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Police also did not provide any statistics on how many call-takers it would take to handle the shortage issue.

Fort Worth isn’t the only city having 911 call center issues. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has turned to city manager T.C. Broadnax to fix severe staffing shortages at the 911 call center in their city. The shortages were evident last week following the stabbing death of a 6-year-old girl

Dallas city officials confirmed to WFAA-TV that the wait time last Thursday was almost 12 minutes during peak call hours.

In Dallas, the city has 110 authorized positions. Right now there are only 84 call takers on staff with some of those still in training, according to WFAA-TV.

Dallas city officials say the city is offering $3,000 signing bonuses to attract new talent as well as approving overtime for current employees.

“Please be confident that your police department takes this issue seriously,” Fort Worth police said Tuesday. “To remedy the staffing issues, the Fort Worth Police Department has taken several steps to fix the immediate staffing issues as we implement long-term solutions to prevent our call center from ever being in this position again.”

In Fort Worth, some of these steps include:

Streamlining the call-taking process to lessen the time that a call-taker is required to be on the phone with a caller.

Implementing modified work schedules in the call center to increase the staffing that is available at all times.

Temporarily mandating overtime shifts for all call center employees to also increase available staffing as the department works toward training new employees.

Continuing to focus on the hiring campaign to identify viable call-taking candidates and bring them on board as quickly as possible.

Assigning additional background officers to expedite the hiring process for new call takers.

Bringing new leadership into the call center with fresh, inventive ideas and insight.

Soliciting input from call center employees on bettering their work environment.

Conducting a salary study to make sure Fort Worth remains competitive in pay with other regional call centers.

Recruiting retired call takers to work on a part-time basis to immediately increase staffing levels.

Assignment of injured or light-duty police employees to the call center.

Allowing sworn and non-sworn police employees to staff the call center as needed.

Coordinating with other local 911 call centers on ideas and methods to increase the hiring, retention, and efficiency of call-takers.

“We continue to work diligently on addressing the staffing issues in our 911 call center to ensure that the citizens of Fort Worth receive the service that they deserve,” Fort Worth police said. “The Fort Worth Police Department is committed to the safety and well-being of our citizens.”

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