Austin 911 call center staffing, license plate reader program discussed in special-called meeting

The City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission held a special-called meeting to discuss license plate readers and the 911 call center.

Both items were originally on the May 1 agenda, but were postponed when APD Chief Joseph Chacon said he wouldn’t be discussing those topics at that time. 

Instead, he discussed the relationship between APD and commissioners and said he wanted to ensure that past "contentious" and inappropriate" conversations involving his staff didn’t happen in the future. 

APD was represented at the special-called meeting and gave an update on 911 staffing. 

"I was asked, how long does it take to answer calls currently? Unfortunately, I can't give you an exact number because that changes day to day and in reality, it can change within 30 minutes," said Maria Calagna, director of Emergency Communications at APD. "The national standard is 90% of calls answered in the first 15 seconds. So that is our goal every day - to meet that standard."

Efforts have been underway to improve recruitment and retention, including pay raises. Dispatchers working overtime during the overnight shift have the opportunity to make double their normal rate.

"That has been instrumental in helping us fill our positions in the later hours of the night from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. when call volume tends to be higher," said Calagna. 

Calagna said emergency communications is receiving three to four times the number of applicants it received around the same time in 2022.

The application and training process has also been streamlined.


"Previously, it was 14 weeks from application to hire date. It's now down to nine or ten weeks," said Calagna. "The hiring unit for Emergency Communications has added two full-time recruitment coordinator positions, a background investigator position and two additional personnel who assist part-time with both recruiting events and the hiring process." 

In February, there were 68 total vacancies across four roles in the 911 call center, dispatcher, operator or call taker, dispatcher leads and communications supervisors. 

As of Monday, May 15, there are currently 71 vacancies in total. 

"We hire three and two leave, and we hire two and three leave," said Bruce Mills, interim assistant city manager. "We've got to do something different to figure out recruiting and retention, and we're working on it."

In March, APD launched a new online reporting system. Case Service is an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that instantly communicates with community members through voice, mobile, web, and text and conducts a full interview with the person filing a report before providing key information to the police department.

"How will it or has it impacted 911 or 311 wait times? Anecdotal evidence suggests Case Service will decrease wait times, but that has yet to materialize," said Calagna. "Case Service has additional functionality that will be expanded upon. When leveraged, this additional functionality will decrease wait times for at least non-emergency and possibly 911."

Chair Nelly Paulina Ramirez did request a future update on the online reporting system.