On Hold with 911: Officials working to fund changes

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Marion County officials are now reacting to the concerns of citizens who say the 911 system is failing them.

In response to a CBS4 investigation showing the wait time for 911 callers due to a shortage of dispatchers at the communications center, elected leaders are working to make changes.

“The concerns that you brought up in your story are good and valid concerns,” said Leroy Robinson, the chair of the city-county council’s public safety committee.

As reported, the average Marion County 9-1-1 caller listens to a hold recording for 25 to 30 seconds before a dispatcher is able to pick up.

“I think that we as a city need to do more to ensure that everyone feels safe in our city and that the calls are answered in a timely manner,” said Robinson.

Robinson says several agencies are now working to fix the years-long problem.

“We have ongoing meetings and discussions taking place right now and also seeking additional funding, to fund and ensure they get more operators to address the issues they brought up in the story,” said Robinson.

Lack of money is what officials in the sheriff’s office say is primarily responsible for the shortage of dispatchers. At $26,000, the entry salary pay is five to 12 thousand dollars less than in every surrounding county.

Sheriff John Layton’s approved 2017 budget only includes a three percent raise for dispatchers. That will still leave their salaries several thousand dollars short of pay in every surrounding county.

“If the salaries increase, I think we’ll be able to get more people on board and that always has an impact on how quickly they can answer the 911 calls,” said Colonel Louis Dezelan with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Colonel Louis Dezelan has seen the office struggle for years to attract and retain dispatchers with the poor pay.

As of Wednesday night, Dezelan didn’t have the exact calculations to show how much money would be needed to bring Marion County dispatcher pay within striking range of other counties.

But together, several agencies hope to work together to at least provide a starting point for bumping up pay.

“We’re working on it right now,” said Robinson. “We’re having discussions now with the controller, with the city, and with the sheriff’s office to see if we can get more funding to get them more dispatchers to handle those calls to ensure that our community feels safe.”

In the meantime, if you do call 911  and hear that hold recording, it’s important you do not hang up.

If you do, you’ll go back to the end of the line and have to wait again.

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