KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When there is an emergency, you expect to call 911 and get the help you need immediately. In Kansas City, that’s not always the case.
The average time someone is put on hold when they call 911 sat at 27 seconds as KCPD worked to hire more staff in early October.
“Me, myself, I had to call 911 for my mom a year ago, so I know how you feel, you are stressed during that time, three seconds feels like ten minutes, so I would like the community to know we are doing the best and we will fix this,” said Captain Darrel Bergquist with the KCPD Communications Unit.
KCPD says it’s an issue they are not content with. They say the problem stems from being short staffed by about 20 employees.
Captain Bergquist said it’s not as simple as just hiring people to answer the phone.
“It use to be a five- or six-step process that would take about four months… We lost a lot of good applicants because they were waiting to get a job and they would take the first possible,” said Bergquist.
So far this year, people have made more than 920,000 calls to 911. Last year, the unit answered 1.2 million calls.
“We don’t ever want anyone to be on hold. We want to get them help as soon as possible without reducing the quality that we provide,” said Bergquist.
Because of the issue, KCPD is trying to make the hiring process shorter. Just like any employee with the police department, there are background checks and other tests that must be passed for employment.
Bergquist says a call taker or dispatcher goes through a classroom training and floor training that take months to complete.
“To a person that just hears about it, you think, just pick up the phone and say you need the police and we send the police. There is a lot more to it, and the training is extensive. You have classroom training for a month, then you get put on the floor with a trainer that answers calls with you, and that takes a couple months.”
Employees in the communications unit have had to work mandatory overtime. KCPD has even contracted with outside agencies to reduce the workload on employees.
“It is a stressful time,” said Bergquist. “We do have to multitask a lot, but we want quality people that care about people. So when they answer the phone, we want them to treat them like it’s their family on the phone.”
This month, KCPD hired 11 employees, but there is still a need. They also say they need call takers and dispatchers that are bilingual.
Another reason for the wait times, Bergquist says, is because many people are calling 911 for things that are not emergencies.
“We don’t want to discourage anyone from calling police,” said Bergquist. “[But] when someone calls for a reason they really shouldn’t, then someone is put on hold.”
KCPD’s non-emergency line is 816- 234-5111.