DALLAS (AP) — Mayor Mike Rawlings says city staff for years "misled" Dallas leaders by making them believe money would be spent to hire additional 911 dispatchers when such hiring never occurred.
Rawlings' sharp criticism came Wednesday during a city council briefing on Dallas' 911 operations, which have long suffered from staffing shortages and technological problems that at times have resulted in hundreds of callers being placed on hold.
The council learned the call center in March had 60 dispatchers, with 12 others still in training. But the city for years has budgeted for 101 full-time positions.
"Hopefully there is a culture change here that when we commit to hiring people here, they're actually hired," Rawlings said.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax acknowledged at one point that, "We should and could have been more aggressive in hiring positions that were budgeted."
Interim police Chief David Pughes said the fault lies with his department, telling the council that commanders for too long were not aggressive enough in hiring 911 dispatchers.
He was made aware of the problem when he assumed his duties in October but said there was no quick fix because of a lengthy hiring and training process.
"We weren't doing enough to recruit and we weren't doing enough to hire," he told the council, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The strain on staff is made worse when dispatchers call in sick or are otherwise unavailable to work.
A temporary solution has been to pull dozens of officers off the streets to help with staffing.
That and other staffing changes along with technological upgrades have improved operations in recent weeks following periods of unpredictable call spikes that left hundreds of callers on hold. The problem may have contributed to a delayed response to emergency situations in which two people died in separate incidents, including a 6-month-old boy whose baby sitter was on hold for a half-hour after the child fell from a bed.
Pughes admitted that dispatchers still aren't getting on the phone with callers as quickly as they once did.
He noted that the city recently held a job fair and received more than 850 applications for dispatch positions, the newspaper reported.
Pughes suggested the starting pay of $36,053 may be too low and should be bumped up to entice more applicants and retain experienced workers.
KTVT in Dallas reported that some city council members expressed strong criticism over the failings of the city's 911 operations, with Jennifer Staubach Gates calling it a "colossal failure of the system at city hall."