DENVER — “We called 911, and we got put on hold,” said Denver resident Jeremy Hymes-Balsley, who tried to report a concerning situation several weeks ago. “There was a crazy dude busy screaming in the middle of Broadway, literally charging cars on his feet."
Hymes-Balsley says he hung up after being on hold for several minutes.
“They called me back, and I went on the phone line for the non-emergency call. And nobody picked up on that one either,” he said.
“I’m asking for their patience and understanding,” said Andrew Dameron, City and County of Denver’s director of emergency communications.
Dameron says he lost a large part of his staff following the COVID-19 pandemic and is still building his team back up. In fact, 29 people are currently going through the 911 call taker academy.
“The residents of Denver aren’t going to see the impact of this class until this fall,” said Dameron.
Debbie Guillaume is part of the class currently making its way through the academy.
“We definitely care about the city of Denver and being able to provide the best service possible to make sure everybody is safe,” said Guillaume.
Dameron says they currently have 49 dispatchers, but have room for a total of 93. If everyone graduates from the academy, the staff will increase to 89 dispatchers.
Aurora is also hoping to beef up its dispatch staff. Seven recruits just graduated from the academy and will soon be working on their own.
“Even though our staffing hasn’t increased, our call times have greatly improved from last year until this year,” said Tina Buneta, director of Aurora 911. “We’re looking to technology. We’re exploring the role of AI in non-emergency situations. We’re looking at all of those types of new and innovative solutions that allow us to do more with less.”
Both Denver and Aurora hope to meet the National Emergency Number Association's standard call time, which is 90% of 911 calls answered within 15 seconds and 95% answered within 20 seconds.
Dameron says his team isn’t meeting those standards right now, but he's hopeful they will once these students start the job.
Both Denver and Aurora say they have increased or are in the process of boosting wages to retain dispatchers.
As for other parts of the metro, Arapahoe County said its 911 communication center is dealing with slight staffing shortages but normal hold times. Douglas County said it is not dealing with staffing issues or long hold times.
Anybody interested in becoming a 911 dispatcher can contact their local law enforcement agency.