Oakland police plans to hire more dispatchers, seek 911 center funding

Amid calls for police budget cuts, Oakland police plan to hire more dispatchers, improve their dispatch center's technology and seek more funding for the center, all to improve public safety.

The planned changes follow a grand jury's findings that police dispatchers are overworked and the center is short-staffed and underfunded. KTVU highlighted these issues in a special report this week.

Police will seek more resources for the center from the City Council in the next biennial budget, and the department is working now to improve the center's technology, said police spokesman Paul Chambers.

Last year, 18,000 residents called 911 and waited for over two minutes for help, while the state standard is for callers to reach a dispatcher in 15 seconds, according to the report. Another 14,000 got frustrated and hung up, the jurors found. 

"We certainly agree with and appreciate the report as we agree that the Oakland Police Department communications center, our 911 dispatch center, has been understaffed, under-resourced and underfunded for quite a while," said interim police Chief Susan Manheimer.

Chambers said the phone system has been upgraded and a new feature coming within months will reroute dropped calls back into the queue, so callers do not have to redial.

He said hiring for more dispatchers is expected to start in August or early September.

"We are going fix and address the issues in our communication dispatch center," Manheimer said Tuesday.

Since the phone system upgrade, more calls are being answered in 15 seconds compared with 2019, Chambers said, but he did not say by how much.

A new system to track emergency calls and to send information to responding police officers will be running next year, according to Chambers.

"911 is our lifeline, our safety net for you the community as well as for our officers responding," Manheimer said.

As Oakland residents grapple with that, they also have their fate in their own hands when it comes to the city’s police commission.

City councilmembers unanimously approved changing language in the charter and removing the chief’s authority to override the police commission and council during emergencies.

The proposed change would allow the commission to hire its own Inspector General, not the city administrator.

The IG would have the authority to review and make policy recommendations relating to police use of force and misconduct.

Bay City News contributed to this report.