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.

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. 

Residents have repeatedly brought this issue up to city officials, and it has been the subject of multiple grand jury reports, but the city said it's facing a shortage of dispatchers.

Oaklanders said they don't feel safe and blame it largely on the lack of accountability from city leaders. 

One resident described the harrowing details of a recent experience she had calling 911. 

"From where I could see, she was on the floor," said Sara Osaba as she pointed to the spot where she had heard a woman crying and asking repeatedly for help. 

It was across the street from Osaba's home in the San Antonio District of East Oakland at 1:30 a.m. on August 20. 

She called 911, but waited on hold for what felt like forever. 

"This is ridiculous, to be on hold for 18 minutes," Osaba said, adding that she called again and still couldn't get through.

"[The woman] had been a victim of gun violence, and she crashed, and was calling for help. I just felt horrible later finding out that that's what happened," said Osaba.

She's among many people who have not been able to get through to Oakland's 911 dispatch. 

The California Office of Emergency Management said Oakland has not been complying with the requirement for 911 calls to be answered within 15 seconds 95% of the time. 

Oakland may soon be ineligible for state funding, giving the city a year to remedy the situation. 

"The Oakland Police Department has identified to Cal OES that the primary contributing factor to call answer times is lack of staffing," a city spokesperson said in a statement. "There are currently 63 dispatch/call taking staff and 14 vacancies."  

But residents don't want to wait a year and think the city has had plenty of time to fix the problem.

"The reality is that they've already had a lot of time to get this problem fixed," said longtime Oakland homeowner Marleen Sacks, a self-described public safety advocate. 

She said she's been tracking Oakland's 911 dispatch response times for six years. She said she couldn't get through to 911 when her home was burglarized. 

Sacks said after two grand jury investigations into this matter, there's no excuse that Oakland's 911 response time has not improved.

"There's no oversight. There's no accountability. Heads should be rolling because of this failure," Sacks said.  

On Wednesday, the Oakland Police Department held a communications dispatcher information night to recruit, but critics said public safety does not appear to be a priority for city leaders.

"We've had a change in leadership, but there's not a change in what's happening to the safety of the residents in Oakland," said Osaba.

The city administration said it has authorized continuous recruitment for new dispatchers. And it also said the Oakland Police Department has interviewed 54 candidates for recruiter positions since June. 

But it did not say when and how many dispatcher positions will be filled.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU.  Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU.