ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Some local leaders are now calling for a top-down review of St. Louis' 911 system after a News 4 investigation revealed startling statistics about people being put on hold when they call for help during an emergency.
“It is a basic necessity for a functioning city. Period. End of story. So it must operate as prescribed,” said Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed. He says what News 4 revealed last week must now be fully reviewed. “We need a top-down review of what’s happened at the 911 center and what needs to change."
News 4 Investigates found that St. Charles County answered 99% of their calls in 2020 within 10 seconds and St. Louis County hit 89% in December 2020. But St. Louis City's number in 2020 was 65%. However, certain day shifts have a lower average. Numbers show during the morning shift, 50% of 911 calls were put on hold for more than ten seconds. That's half the calls dispatchers receive in the morning hours.
A News 4 investigation revealed St. Louis City is well above the national average of response time to 911 calls and residents are left with frustration.
National standards dictate 90-95% of 911 calls should be answered within 10 or 15 seconds. “We have some very complex issues that we have to get through. This isn’t one of those that’s so complex that you cannot meet that standard,” Reed said.
Reed, who is running for mayor next month, wants an outside agency to audit the 911 system and see what needs fixing.
“We have a high turnover, because people get good experience and then they go to an adjoining county and they do it,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Krewson said the key is paying dispatchers a competitive starting pay, something Reed says must be done.
“We aren’t talking about raising the salary of 3,000 people. So it’s doable,” Reed said.
Cara Spencer, who is also running for mayor, has been talking about hold times for years. “Horrifying. Truly horrifying to learn we were never prioritizing 911 calls over non-emergency numbers,” said Alderman Cara Spencer. “I have gotten that recording so many times. I know it by heart and its truly horrifying when you are experiencing an emergency and you are in distress and you need to give law enforcement the vital information you are experiencing."
She also said she could raise starting wages with money from an already available economic development fund. She also believes better technology, too, could address overflow. “If we are failing to take calls when people are willing to engage in our law enforcement, that's a real failure on so many levels,” Spencer said.
The city recently announced the implementation of a new software program to better manage 911 calls but Spencer and others say it’s not yet enough.
"This is an issue we have to put as a top priority, it does seem like a no brainer and we should have this in place, but it’s clear that we don't," someone said.
We reached out to the other mayoral candidates. Andrew Jones did not respond. Treasurer Tishaura Jones sent a statement saying "it is simply unacceptable for any emergency calls to go unanswered and St. Louisans deserve better." She also supports raising dispatcher salaries.