Cleveland police respond to I-Team about unanswered 911 calls

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – The City of Cleveland has now responded to sweeping changes coming aimed at getting your 9-1-1 calls answered more quickly in light of thousands of people getting no answer or getting a recording.

The FOX 8 I-Team reported this week, plans are moving forward to take 9-1-1 cell phone calls in Cleveland out of City dispatch.

Instead, those calls will be sent to Cuyahoga County dispatch.

In a statement, Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said, “Having city of Cleveland calls for police service routed to CECOMS will not speed up service to citizens.  This will add another layer to the call answering process as the calls for service would be answered by a call taker in CECOMS and then rerouted to the city of Cleveland for processing.”

A Cuyahoga County committee decided Cleveland has struggled handling 9-1-1 calls for too long.

In fact, a state agency has also found Cleveland dispatch too slow to answer too often.

Each year, the City gets about 400,000 cell phone 9-1-1 calls.

But, in the coming months, plans call for having those calls ring in County dispatch in the hopes of cutting down on delays.

Sgt. Ciaccia also said in the statement, “Although the Communications Control Section has had some issues meeting state guidelines for answering requirements in the past, more recently CCS has been meeting state answering requirements.  Several factors have impacted call answering times including CCS employees being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing staffing shortages due to illness and exposure.  In addition, many members have retired, and hiring has also been impacted by the pandemic.”

Earlier this week, Cuyahoga County Chief of Special Operations Brandy Carney said, “We want to make sure standards are observed, but more importantly, all calls are answered as quickly as possible.”

State standards say ninety percent of 9-1-1 calls have to be answered in ten seconds.

Ninety-five percent in twenty seconds.

The FOX 8 I-Team has obtained letters showing in each of the last two years, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services found Cleveland dispatch falling short.

In one letter, the State even referred to an earlier I-Team report.

We’ve reported, up to thousands of 9-1-1 calls a month don’t get answered immediately. They get classified as “abandoned” calls.

Callers hang up and decide to try later, or they handle an emergency themselves.

The City has said many of the abandoned calls can be tied to pocket dials or kids playing with phones.

The City also has said dispatchers call back everyone right away after an abandoned call.

But, privately, dispatchers and union leaders say many of those people do not get called back right away.

Dispatchers are often too busy or short-staffed.

Even if the cell phone 9-1-1 calls go to the County, callers will, in fact, still have to talk to City police, fire and EMS. So, we asked how much time will be saved by having County dispatchers answer and then transfer calls back to the City?

Brandy Carney responded, “That’s a fair question. It might seem counter-intuitive to have that extra step. But right now, us answering the call seems, from a timing perspective, to make more sense.”

See more on the FOX 8 I-Team’s 911 investigations here

In the background, big money from the state hangs in the balance. The County says it could lose state funding for emergency dispatch if calls are not answered quickly enough.

We have learned, the City is looking into what it can do to keep handling the calls and answer more quickly. However, the statement from the City did not address that specifically.

The statement also said, “The Cleveland Police Communications Control Section is confident that they can continue to meet the state answering requirements of answering 911 calls within 10 seconds 90% of the time and within 20 seconds 95% of the time.”

If the changes in routing and handling cell phone 9-1-1 calls do take place, it may take months to make that happen.

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