Oakland mayor announces $2.5M more, upgrades for beleaguered 911 system

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Monday announced an additional $2.5 million over two years to be spent on the city's beleaguered 911 system.

"Response times have been a long-standing issue," Thao said at a news conference. "We know this, but we do not accept that this is good enough. We are always pushing to ensure that we are doing more."

She said the additional funding will be coming from the Oakland Alameda Joint Powers Authority, and that money will be used to "ensure that our response time is heightened within our community."  

Thao also said that there are about 15 open dispatch positions and the city is hiring to fill those vacancies. If the city fails to fill these positions in less than one year, it risks losing state funding and the right to field its own 911 calls. 

The city’s dispatch service currently has 62 filled positions. 

In addition, Thao said the city is preparing to undergo a "major upgrade" to the dispatch system and is hardening the phone system against future power outages, which occurred this summer. 

The Joint Powers Authority brought in more revenue over the past year as a result of booking more events at the Coliseum, said Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who is also chair of the Coliseum Authority Board.

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said she understands the "fear, anger and trauma" that many Oaklanders feel right now and "community safety is Oakland's top priority." 

She said the city is not only working to improve 911 response time, the city is also "investing in addressing the root causes of violence and poverty with more job opportunities, including right here at the city of Oakland and a massive investment in affordable housing."

This summer, an Alameda County's civil grand jury warned that the 20-year-old 911 system is waiting to fail catastrophically.

The grand jury’s report said the software and hardware is so out of date it’s no longer supportable.

"The city risks a catastrophic failure of the system," according to the report. "If that happens, they will be back to paper and pencil, as they were during the recent ransomware attack."

Many question if the additional $2.5 million is an adequate amount to address the situation. One expert tells KTVU it would take five times this amount to get caught up on deferred maintenance and upgrades, let alone hiring and training new dispatchers. 

Oakland resident Sara Smith, told KTVU about her recent 911 experience. 

"I was at a loss for words. It's unacceptable," Smith said. She said late Friday night, her 74-year-old father was robbed by a young couple at knife point at around 11 p.m. in front of Clifton Hall senior residence while he was getting his walker out of his car. 

"And I said, I don't have any money and I showed him my wallet and it was empty," said Mr. Minarez, her father. 

Minarez lost what little pocket money he had, his cell phone adan the electronic key to his building. 

"We both called 911 together and when we called, we were put on hold and we didn't reach the dispatcher for 17 minutes," Smith said. "Thirty two hours, mind you, during that time I had called them back on the non-emergency line, four times," said Smith. 

She said on the last call, 911 said that the officers had already been out there. 

"That's not true," said Smith. "They said they came and called and they didn't," Minarez added. 

Jurors recently learned the Oakland Police Department is forced to buy replacement parts for the dispatch system on eBay because the parts are no longer supplied by the vendor. Oakland and one other city are the only customers left in the nation, the report states.

Records show despite the city buying new computer-aided dispatch equipment and software, it is now five years old and has never been fully installed.

A source told KTVU the current hardware is "duct taped together" with the old equipment. 

Earlier this month, the state alerted Oakland that funding for its police dispatchers may be in jeopardy if the department does not improve its 911 response times, state officials recently warned.

The state of California said 95% of 911 calls must be answered within 15 seconds, but Oakland police only does that 46% of the time. 


OPD at risk of losing state funds for slow 911 response times

State funds for Oakland Police Department dispatchers may be in jeopardy if the department does not improve its 911 response times, state officials recently warned.