911 Call Center scrutinized by City Council Criminal Justice Committee

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 10:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 26 at 10:41 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Unanswered 9-1-1 calls and a staffing shortage are just some of the problems plaguing the Orleans Parish Communications District (OPCD).

The City Council's Criminal Justice Committee put the agency responsible for the 911 Call Center in the hot seat on Wednesday, demanding to know why citizen calls for help are going unanswered.

"Shot in the neck went through his mouth and he's suffering severely now at University Hospital," said New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell regarding a shooting on election night in Gentilly.

Friend's of the victim say he was shot in the face at a house party near the intersection of Filmore Avenue and Spain Street. A witness at the party tells Eyewitness News that several guests reached for their phones, dialed 911, but got no answer.

"The only way that a response was made was that one of the bystanders had Commander John Thomas' number," said Councilwoman Cantrell addressing the City Council Chambers.

The March 24 incident is another example of a call taker staffing shortage at the Orleans Parish Communications Center bubbling to the surface inside City Hall on Wednesday.

OPCD Director Stephen Gordon confirmed emergency operators are answering fewer calls on-time; and in some cases, not showing up to their shifts because they're overworked.

"Our officers don't like being late, our officers don't like getting there not as quickly as possible, our call takers don't like that the call has to go unanswered," said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas during the committee meeting.

The NOPD says it recently got approval to hire more call takers, 36 are now on staff, and the plan is to recruit 19 more.

Staffing is one issue, but City Council members are also questioning why off-duty police officers are calling non-emergency lines, answered by emergency operators, to report their detail locations.

"911 was touted as a way for people to get emergency services. Now we're hearing that police officers are calling in to say they're going on another detail," said New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

"The calls take less than 90 seconds they're not answered before a 911 call. They're not answered first," said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas defending the detail call-in system which he says helped solve a shooting earlier this week.

Problems with a 911 call system that officials say has been around for at least six years, magnified by budget cuts.

"Its reminding me of a time in the 90's when Public Enemy came out with the number one hit: '911 is a joke'," said Cantrell of the challenges facing the emergency call center.

Consolidating and cross-training call takers from police, fire and EMS is also being considered as part of the reforms.

The Criminal Justice Committee is also calling for an audit of the call center to make sure it is receiving appropriate funding.

 

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