JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is calling on off-duty officers to answer your call for help. An Action News Jax investigation revealed a nationwide dispatcher shortage is impacting the amount of time you could wait for 911 to pick up, including in Jacksonville.
Last month, Brandy Durham said she waited more than 15 minutes for officers to arrive after she called 911 because of a man she’s never seen trying to break into her Southside apartment. Durham, a single mother, was home with her 9-year-old son when the incident happened at 4 a.m.
“A million things went through my mind. I started thinking ‘is my back gate locked?, are the windows locked?’,” she said. “At 4 in the morning [I expect] a little bit more urgency [from 911].”
She made several calls to the call center. An Action News Jax investigation revealed the wait for 911 to pick up has doubled over the past couple years from about 10 seconds to nearly 22 seconds this past April.
The state standard for 911 ring times is 10 seconds, however, the National 911 Association changed its standard to 15 seconds.
“It’s not horribly off from the way the standards are. Considering staffing shortages,” April Heinze, the operations director for the association, said.
The dispatcher shortages are a nationwide issue. The National Association of State 911 Administrators surveyed more than 700 dispatch centers across the country and found about one third of agencies had 30% open positions.
Heinze said it started after the pandemic as prospective employees value personal life more and communications centers have to compete with the private sector, which typically pays higher. Dispatchers are faced with shifts throughout 24 hours of the day and 365 days of the year.
Beyond that, she said dispatchers are under high-stress levels and training in a larger city like Jacksonville can take more than three months.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office hosted a virtual career fair for emergency communications officers Tuesday. The agency is also offering a hiring bonus between $5,000 and $10,000, a representative said.
“Additionally, there have been employees administratively re-assigned to assist the Communications Center following an injury or lengthy restriction to “Light Duty;” off-duty personnel (Police and Community Service Officers) have been given the opportunity to work in the Communications Center on their regular day off. Both options contribute to the staffing of the Communications Center,” a JSO representative said.
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“It is a career path and something you could really enjoy if you are interested in helping people,” Heinze added.