Austin resident left waiting nearly 10 minutes to speak with 911 operator

Thursday afternoon on MoPac, a little before 2 PM, a landscaping truck lost its load. Chad Edwards told FOX 7 he was driving northbound, and he was among those who drove into the chaotic scene.

"People swerving in different lanes, without blinkers, just trying to avoid this without messing their car up, not thinking ‘hey I might hit somebody, this might cause a big accident,’" said Edwards.

Edwards called 911, but only got a recording.

"I listened to that for 27 times, repeating, then it switched to the Travis County SO switchboard and I listened to that 5 times, and it switched back to the Austin Police Department switchboard. I listened to that for another 10 times and I got frustrated, and I was already way down the road from it and hung up, and about 4 or 5 minutes later APD 911 called me back," said Edwards.

It's protocol for 911 operators to quickly respond to a hang-up call. Waiting about 10 minutes; that's certainly a red flag for retired Austin Police Sergeant, and Law Enforcement Analyst, Wayne Vincent.

"It's just not acceptable that you can't call 911 and talk to an individual within a reasonable time. This one could have been tragic. They could have called back to an individual that, had he got help, is now seriously injured or dead," said Vincent.

Vincent said that city officials were warned several years ago about increasing response times and a growing staffing problem.

"It's a money thing, it's always about money and resources, but it's a leadership thing too, the can has been kicked down the road and now the average citizen on those rare occasions where they have to call the police, are finding out this crisis is real," said Vincent.

Back in October, APD made a change in how emergency calls should be made to ease the pressure on operators. It was decided that 311 is for reporting crimes that are no longer in progress or there is no immediate threat to life or property.

The APD supervisor for the 911 center is Lt. Ken Murphy. He told FOX 7 the answer rate for APD’s 911 operators is around 93% within 10 seconds of a call coming in. But, he admits there was a problem Thursday. During the one o'clock hour he only had 11 operators on duty, and they took 170 calls. In the two o'clock hour he had 12 operators who logged 158 calls.

Adding more people has been difficult. The last two job postings, according to Lt. Murphy produced a total of 30 applicants and only one was eligible to be hired. Part of the problem- starting pay is around $18 an hour. Lt. Murphy told FOX 7 that Dallas recently solved its 911 staffing problem by increasing pay to $22 an hour and offering a $3,000 signing bonus.

Chad Edwards understands the problem but believes what happened to him can't continue.

"What if I was on the side of the road dying, I'd be dead. That’s exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking this was ridiculous, something needs to be done to get whatever the problem is fixed."

FOX 7 was told a salary study is expected to be sent to the city next month. Lt. Murphy hopes it will convince the council to increase pay and possibly include signing bonuses. New equipment may also help, but Murphy said that technology is still 4 to 5 years away.

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