DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Nearly 40 percent of the 911 operator positions at the Durham Emergency Communications Center (DECC) are now vacant, as the number of operational vacancies is now at 23 as of Friday afternoon, according to city’s website.
For months, the shortage has impacted 911 call pick-up times and responses to emergencies.
In an open records request, CBS 17 obtained emails that show on Aug. 30 the communications center director Randy Beeman sent an email to interim police chief Shari Montgomery that asked if there were any officers who could help with communications at the call center.
Montgomery replied to Beeman and said the police department “really didn’t have the staff to pull” to help at the center.
“We have 91 vacancies,” Montgomery said in the internal email. “We are barely covering our beats and only running 50% staffing and that’s only with supplemental and slide which is never guaranteed.”
CBS 17 has previously reported on the shortage of Durham police officers, and how it has led to longer police response times.
“We don’t have many cars available or staffing available,” Montgomery said during a city work session on Sept. 23.
In other emails CBS 17 obtained, Beeman and assistant director Tangela Gibson sent an email to communications center staff on Sept. 15, letting them know that they are now being offered double time for hours worked in excess of the first 10 overtime hours.
The communications center directors told staff that they are working to train more 911 operators to fill the vacancies, but they say they need more measures to address the high volume of calls their center is experiencing.
According to the city’s website, in July and August, more than 27,000 911 calls came into the communications center, which is more than they’ve received in a monthly basis in five years.
According to another internal email between Montgomery and Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson, a retired Durham police officer called the city with an idea to have retired police officers answer non-emergency calls.
Montgomery said in an email that she had a meeting with the DECC about having retired or reserve officers take reports over the phone.
CBS 17 reached out to the city to see if there are any plans to move forward with this proposal, but we have not heard back.
New data from the city of Durham’s website shows that call pick-up times at the communications center improved in recent months.
Data showed that the Durham Emergency Communications Center went from answering 76 percent of calls in 15 seconds in August to 84 percent of calls in 15 seconds in September.
However, they are still falling short of the National Emergency Number Association’s standard of answering 90 percent of calls in 15 seconds.