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N4T Investigators: 911 Please Hold - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: 911 Please Hold

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TUCSON – A 911 caller waited more than 15 minutes to connect to police last month.

Tucson’s Public Safety Communications Department is struggling to deal with frequent holds when callers dial 911.

Frank Silverman owns Midtown Tavern. He had to call 911 after customers tried to assault him on Thursday night. He said he was waiting more than 5 minutes.

“The hold time is a problem,” Silverman said. “I’ve experienced this before.”

He said he appreciated the Tucson Police Department’s quick response when he got connected.

“When we call 911, we need help,” Silverman said. “And when it doesn't come, and you're put on hold, it's very frustrating.”

Tucson police received 25,635 emergency calls in February. About 8 percent took more than 3 minutes to answer. About 31 percent took more than 1 minute to answer.

Robert Welch said he called to report an erratic driver on March 6. He said he held for 3 minutes.

“I never expected to get into a queue on a 911 call,” Welch said. “Three minutes, it's life and death.”

The Public Safety Communications Department is going through a major transition. Employees used to work for the police department or fire department. Now they are consolidated into an independent city department.

Ross Adelman took over as the director at the beginning of the year.

“I know we're going to be successful,” Adelman said. “It's going to be a whole new department shaping up very nicely, and we're going to continue down that path.”

Adelman invited News Four Tucson on a tour of the 911 call center last Saturday. An employee confirmed he was aware of at least 1 police call holding more than 5 minutes in the past month.

“The people that are alarmed on 5-minute waits, I am just as alarmed,” Adelman said. “That number is decreasing. We're going to continue to decrease it and try to get it to zero.”

Operators treat some calls as high priorities when they know it is an immediately life-threatening situation. A high-priority call waited for 1 minute and 53 seconds on February 26.

High-priority call waits improved from January to February. A total of 3 calls waited more than 2 minutes, and 17 calls waited more than 1 minute in January. No calls waited more than 2 minutes, and 7 calls waited more than 1 minute in February.

Adelman is a retired Marine Corps colonel who later worked at Honeywell. He spent the last 4 years working for the city.

“My whole career was command, control, communications,” He said.

The department has 163 positions in its budget, and 34 are vacant. The next class of 20 employees starts training on May 7. Pay starts at $17.50 per hour.

About 30 to 40 percent of 911 calls are not emergencies. The city hopes to eventually start a 311 system that will handle all non-emergency city service issues. Until then, they hope people will consider looking for an appropriate city department’s phone number before calling 911.

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