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INVESTIGATES: Help on hold as 911 response times continue to lag

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The ramp from Atlantic Boulevard to Interstate 95 is known for traffic, but that wasn’t what concerned a St. Nicholas neighbor last week.

Darlene Yauger noticed a man lying on the side of the ramp while she was on her way to Riverside on Monday.

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“I pride myself on helping people. That’s something I really enjoy doing. I wanted to help that man,” she told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

She attempted to call 911 three separate times, but could not get through to help. According to her phone records, she waited more than 40 seconds but never got an answer.

“I don’t make a habit of calling them. I’ll go around if I can, (calling) a neighbor or whatever. But this situation, my focus was getting that man off that highway.”

She left the side of the highway concerned for her own safety and hoping 911 would call her back, but she never got a call.

According to JSO, “abandoned” calls are returned by dispatchers. There were more than 800 in March, and 907 in April.

Related: JSO failing to meet state standard answering 911 calls

Yauger’s story is one of several investigated by Action News Jax over the past several months.

Related: Dispatcher shortage puts help on hold in Jacksonville; salaries increased

911 wait times have increased to more than double the state standard of 10 seconds. Part of the blame has been placed on a staffing shortage in the dispatch center.

JSO records show this year started with 40 openings in the center, which is budgeted for at least 140 total positions.

“Obviously it’s one of the hardest jobs that you can have. So, it’s a priority that you get good people, and recruit and retain good people,” Brian Hughes, the City of Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, said.

In a July interview, Hughes told Action News Jax the city recently increased its budget to raise the salary of 911 professionals to $44,000. There’s an opportunity for up to an 8% raise after three years on the job.

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