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St. Louis leaders unveil plan to speed up 911 response times

Right now there are roughly 35 openings with 911 dispatch

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis leaders unveiled a plan to eliminate slow emergency response times. The goal is to cut down on callers being put on hold during a crisis. The plan will also get more people back in the workforce. 

Right now there are roughly 35 openings with 911 dispatch. Leaders said if they can get more ears on the first, first responders can get to life and death situations faster.

Right now, when callers dial 911 a dispatcher answers. The dispatcher takes the information and then relays that to either a fire or EMS dispatcher in a different location. Then first responders are sent in to help. The new configuration puts all dispatchers under one roof, eliminating the middle man and bottleneck of info in a time of crisis.

"It's no secret that our 911 system needs our support," St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said.

She like many others, she's experienced being put on hold when calling 911. 

"Like many St. Louis residents, I know what it's like to hear gunshots in our neighborhoods and wait on hold for a response or not want to call at all," the mayor said. 

Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said the plan to speed up emergency services is three-pronged: Hire more people, diversion and improving technology.

"Additionally are our steps are to bring our technology in line with acceptable technology for our community," Isom said. 

A huge aspect of the mayor's plan is diversion. She listened in on a few calls as she toured the downtown dispatch room. 

"There were several calls we didn't have to dispatch police to," Jones said. "We could've sent social workers or other mental health professionals."

St. Louis's director of personnel agreed adding ears will help speed up response times but so will re-prioritizing the work. 

"We just feel that it would be much more effective to have dedicated lines staffed by clerical people to go into REJIS so police dispatchers are not taken away from their primary duty, which is responding to 911 calls," Personnel Director Richard Frank said. "We're working with the Department of Public Safety on these issues."

They are also working through the task of finalizing details on all of the dispatchers falling under one category.  

Currently, there are three separate job classes, EMS, fire and police dispatchers. They all have separate pay schedules and qualifications. City leaders have asked to combine the dispatchers, and the Department of Personnel has asked for a plan on how to do it, according to Frank.

Frank also said one of the issues plaguing police dispatchers is running criminal background checks for officers on the streets.  

Leaders want you to help keep the call volume down. For non-emergencies or general info call 314-231-1212.