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Fort Worth 911 Response Times Fall Short of Goals: Audit

A report found that the city’s police department only met its response time goal for high-priority calls 46 percent of the time. Fort Worth has the slowest response time goal of Texas’ five largest cities.

(TNS) — The Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department fell short of its response time goal for almost half of high-priority emergency calls in a 15-month period between 2019 and 2020, according to an audit by the city of Fort Worth.

Fort Worth's internal audit department analyzed Fort Worth police response times as part of the department's 2021 annual audit plan, which was finalized at the beginning of 2021. The report was published on the city's website on Dec. 30.

According to the report, Fort Worth police response times consistently lag behind the department's goal — which has not been updated since 2017 — and the department does not have clear guidelines for calculating and reviewing those response times.

Auditors analyzed call times from October 2019 to December 2020. Call response times from June 2021 were also analyzed due to a "publicized incident" that month, the audit report said. On June 21, NBC DFW reported that a Fort Worth mother called 911 after her daughter stopped breathing, but nobody answered. The woman's daughter survived, but her story called attention to a growing problem.

In response, police issued a statement on June 22 saying that the 911 call center was understaffed which, "in some limited cases, translated to a slowed or delayed response to our citizens who are attempting to reach emergency services."

"Please be confident that your police department takes this issue seriously," Fort Worth police said in the June statement. "To remedy the staffing issues, the Fort Worth Police Department has taken several steps to fix the immediate staffing issues as we implement long-term solutions to prevent our call center from ever being in this position again."

From October 2019 to December 2020, call takers at the 911 call center answered 1.2 million calls from residents each calendar year, the audit report says, and dispatched officers to over 300,000 calls. In that time frame, the police department, according to the report, did not meet its 911 response time goals 46.36 percent of the time for "priority 1" calls. Calls are considered "priority 1" if there is an immediate threat, such as a robbery, sexual assault, shooting, kidnapping or medical emergency.

The Fort Worth Police Department's response time goal for "priority 1" calls is 8 minutes and 54 seconds, the report says, and that goal has not been changed since 2017. When compared to Texas' four other largest cities, Fort Worth's response time goal is the slowest. Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin's response time goals are shorter. The report does not analyze whether those cities consistently meet their response time goals.

The department also did not meet its response time goals 36.6 percent of the time for "priority 2" calls and did not meet its goal 36.95 percent of the time for "priority 3" calls. The goal for "priority 2" calls is 17 minutes and 18 seconds and "priority 3" calls have a goal time of 54 minutes.

According to data obtained by the Star-Telegram, the average response time for all calls between January 2021 and November 2021 was 29 minutes and 6 seconds. The longest response time recorded in 2021 was an hour and 23 minutes, according to data from the police department.

The 911 call center is run by one police officer and 119 civilian staffers, the audit report says. When a person calls 911 or the police department's emergency number, their call is directed to a call taker at the 911 call center. The call taker collects details, assigns the call a priority and transfers the call to dispatchers. Dispatchers contact police or other emergency responders and direct them to the scene. The department's response time is calculated based on the amount of time between when a call taker answers the 911 call to when the first officer arrives at the scene.

Abandoned Calls

Calls in which the caller hangs up before talking with a call taker are considered abandoned calls. For example, the mother who called 911 in June about her child not breathing said no one ever picked up, and her call was sent to a recording. That call would be considered abandoned. A call would also be considered abandoned if someone called 911 and immediately hung up.

From October 2019 to June 2020, about 8 to 9 percent of calls were abandoned, the audit report said. But the percentage of abandoned calls had risen by June 2021. In that month, 23 percent of calls were abandoned by callers.

Calls that are unanswered within 15 seconds are routed to a recorded message. The call is sent to an "abandoned" queue if the caller hangs up before speaking with a call taker. According to the audit report, the Fort Worth Police Department said its call takers make two attempts to reach abandoned callers through the number noted in the queue. The majority of June 2021 abandoned calls were at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m, the report said.

The auditor's report made two recommendations to the police department. First, the report said Fort Worth police need clear, written policies on response times. The policy should include how those times are calculated and how often police response times are assessed.

Secondly, the audit report recommended the Fort Worth police chief routine analyze 911 response times and response time goals. If the goals are not met, the chief should take actions to resolve those issues.

According to the report, Fort Worth Police Department staff said the impact of those recommendations could not be realized — or the effectiveness determined — until the department had adequate staffing.

In a Star-Telegram interview about the 911 call center in December, District 4 Councilman Cary Moon said the 911 call center struggles with staffing shortages and technology issues.

"With staffing, you can overcome the weaknesses of tech," he said. "But when you don't have staffing, the technology issues are exposed."

The city has not been proactive in addressing the labor shortfall of the 911 call center, Moon said.

In terms of technology challenges, Moon said the city has been trying to implement an automatic system to transfer people to the appropriate emergency department, whether that's the police department, fire department or mental health crisis team.

(c)2022 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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