ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Some callers tell News 4 that they are being put on hold and met with a recording when they dial 911 in the city.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Dan Isom asked his 911 communications department to look into the complaints. In an email to his staff, he said, “It should be noted that we do not have the recommended staffing levels due to budget constraints.”
Police tell News 4 that overtime is not allowed for 911 operators, meaning some of your emergencies might have to wait.
Last Saturday night Lynn Nelson heard gunfire near her South St. Louis home.
“I could see a guy with a gun, so I dial 911, and when I call, I’m put on hold,” Nelson said. “I get another recording, ‘please hold,’ and I’m still on hold.”
Inside the 911 dispatch center, the flashing blue light means someone is on hold, waiting to get help for an emergency.
The recording says, “You have reached the 911 Center for the City of St. Louis. All operators are busy at this time. Please do not hang up. Your call will be answered in the order it was received.”
Kathy McMillan called us when she got that recording while trying to report a pedestrian hit by a car on Wednesday afternoon.
“If someone’s having a heart attack or they’ve been hit by a car, they need an ambulance immediately,” McMillan said. “Seconds matter. People die.”
News 4 asked police to pull the records on Kathy’s call and found that she was on hold for 41 seconds while the system was bombarded with other callers. In fact, police say there were 73 calls to 911 within the 30 minutes of Kathy’s call. The emergencies included an assault, hold up and domestic violence, in addition to the pedestrian who was struck.
“Not only is your emergency occurring at this location, but we might have an emergency on the other side of the city occurring at the same time and those calls also come in here,” St. Louis Metropolitan Police Lt. Kenny Newsome explained.
Lt. Newsome says he’d always like to have more operators, but that when multiple incidents are going on throughout the city, callers are likely going to have to wait, even for a brief moment.
“It can take a single incident sometimes to overwhelm us,” Lt. Newsome said.
“It’s very scary. If someone’s breaking into your house, are you going to get the recording? What are you going to do?” McMillan asked.
The Association of Public Safety Officers want to see 90 percent of 911 calls answered in less than 10 seconds. St. Louis Metropolitan Police fall just below that preference at 84 percent of calls answered in less than 10 seconds. Officers point out that it’s still a very good rating. Two operator positions are currently vacant—and needed—to answer the 2,600 calls they receive every day.
Police say another problem is that 911 often gets tied up with non-emergency calls; things like water main breaks, trees in the street, or even something as minor as a stubbed toe. Those calls tie up the lines for real emergencies. Police urge you to reserve 911 for serious situations. All other calls should go to the non-emergency line. In the city, that’s (314) 231-1212.