I-Team asks why some 911 calls were being placed on hold

CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-Team is investigating why some calls to Cleveland 911 Monday went straight to a recording, putting callers on hold.

We’ve revealed this problem happening before, so what happened this time?

Among those who got a recording, John Prather. He helped hold a suspect for police after the man had stolen a purse from a senior citizen and knocked her down.

Prather said, “You should never be put on hold for a 911 call." He added, no dispatcher answered the phone to find out about the emergency, instead a recording immediately came on the line. Prather said, “This old lady could've been really badly hurt. They'd never know. Anything's possible.”

The I-Team found a series of 911 calls went to that recording. Trucker Justin Hartness called when he saw a big chair in the middle of the highway. He said, “I don’t think the wait time was acceptable. You would've been sitting on line if somebody got shot, or somebody had an accident."

Police say calls backed up twice. Once, after a report of furniture in the highway. And again, after a report of a ladder in the highway. Both of those incidents sparked lots of calls.

Still, we asked the head of the 911 center, is debris on the highway enough to take down the Cleveland 911 system?

Commander Debra Cavett said, "Calls like that, similar to that, house fires, major accidents. semis rolled over, they do create a volume of calls."

This comes as the I-Team has been investigating complaints of short-staffing here at Cleveland police dispatch. Union leaders and others say, too often, dispatchers are not allowed to walk out the door to go home at the end of a shift. They often are forced to stay and work overtime because there aren't enough people to handle 911 calls.

Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer said, “A lack of service is a direct result of shortages in our communications center that have been ignored for years. Our dispatchers and telephone operators...are doing the best job they can with the circumstances that are created for them.”

Cavett argues staffing was not an issue in this case.

Yet, John Prather wonders how. He says fix it. Prather said, "I would say let’s hire more people, or not let this happen, no more."

Last month, the I-Team filed a records request with the city asking for the number of dispatchers, the number of unfilled positions, and the plan for filling those jobs. Weeks later, the city still has not provided those answers.