Marion County 911 putting callers on hold

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MARION COUNTY, Ind. – An Indianapolis man is upset after he says he called 911 and had to wait for an operator.

Tyler Martin said he was robbed at gunpoint on September 7, 2018.

“The guy came up from behind me with a gun and put it to my head,” he said. “It was all so fast.”

Martin was at a gas station along Moller Road when the robbery happened. He said two men pistol whipped him and stole his designer backpack before they took off.

“I was bleeding,” Martin remembers. “There was blood just all down my face.”

Martin dialed 911 before chasing after the thieves. Instead of reaching an operator, though, he got a recording.

“It said, ‘We’re sorry, no one is available to take your call right now. Please wait until an operator is available,’” Martin described. “I finally hung up and called 911 back. The same thing—another operator.”

Records show that Martin called 911 three times that day. On the first attempt, he waited 40 seconds. The second time, he waited one minute and 16 seconds. It wasn’t until the third try that Martin got through to a dispatcher.

“I could have lost my life that evening, and all I wanted was 911 to help me,” he said.

Data shows Martin is not the only person to get such a recording. In 2016, CBS4 uncovered that Marion County’s 911 center was placing people in a queue. Lieutenant Colonel Joe McAtee blamed the hold times on a lack of staffing.

“Do we get five-minute waits on 911? Am I happy with that?” he asked. “Never. 15 seconds is too long to wait on 911.”

In 2016, McAtee said Indianapolis was seeing a significant increase in population. Dispatchers, though, were leaving at record rates. They were either retiring or leaving for better paying positions.

CBS4 found out recently not much has changed.

“We’re short 40 dispatchers,” City County Councilor Frank Mascarim said.

Part of the problem, he explained, is that Marion County’s dispatcher salary isnot competitive with surrounding areas.

A public records request revealed that Marion County’s dispatch received 157,024 911 calls in 2018. Of those, 10% were in the queue – or on hold – for more than a minute. Ninety percent of the callers had to wait 50-60 seconds before talking to a dispatcher.

“Seconds count,” Martin stressed. “I feel violated.”

CBS4 asked Marion County how much overtime dispatchers were working to cover 24-hour shifts. As of our report, a spokesperson had not responded.

Leaders said if someone calls 911, they shouldn’t hang up even if they are placed in a queue. If an individual hangs up and calls back, they are rerouted to the end of the line and basically start over.

Martin said he filed a police report and turned in one of the thieves’ hats for forensic evidence. The gas station had surveillance video, but it expired before a police officer tried to obtain it.

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