PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Phoenix Police Department has 37 vacancies in its Communications Bureau, where all 911 calls are handled for the city. "The thing I noticed most about having a call center at one of the largest departments in the country and one of the largest cities in the country is that it's a nonstop operation. There are constantly calls coming in," said Cmdr. Jim Gallagher. "We dispatch solely for the Phoenix Police Department, but we have square mileage of about over 500 square miles, and we police in urban, suburban, rural and desert environments and that comes with a lot of different and complex challenges you won't get in other communities across the country."
Cmdr. Gallagher has been overseeing the Communications Bureau for six months and says they've gotten creative with handling so many calls with a short staff. "Sometimes, just out of necessity, we have to take certain radio channels and combine them to other channels," Gallagher explained. "If we're short one night, we may have to combine two of those channels into one channel and then spread that work out a little bit more than we would like. It's not ideal, but the way we do that, it's never intended to impact service or the emergency nature of the work that we do."
Gallagher says ideally they would have 22-25 dispatchers and 10-20 call takers in the communications center at all times. "We never want people to wait. We want to make sure we achieve our goal of answering every 911 call within about 15 seconds, but unfortunately, due to call volumes and staffing shortages, we're going to miss that mark," Gallagher said.
Gallagher says with the volume of calls they get and the number of dispatchers, some calls cannot be picked up right away. He says often times, people call 911 for non-emergencies. "This month alone, 67% of all calls that came into the dispatch center were handled by us. That means only 33% of all those calls were sent to the field. What that tells us, people are calling 911 when there are other options available," Gallagher said.
When you call 9-1-1, you expect to be able to talk with some immediately, But if you live in Kansas City, be prepared to sit on hold and wait.
Other Valley police departments are also experiencing vacancies in their dispatch centers. Gilbert and Glendale police departments have 10 openings. Peoria has two openings for dispatchers. Mesa Police has 11 full-time positions open, and Tempe police are hiring between 5 to 7 communication specialists.
Phoenix Police has 37 vacancies and 50 people going through training right now. "While police are many times called the first line of defense, communications are realistically the first line of response. Everything that goes on in the Phoenix Police Department, begins in communications," Gallagher said.