Tulsa Police 911 Center Understaffed, Underfunded

Monday, June 23rd 2014, 10:04 pm
By: News On 6

We told you last week about some cases where citizens called 911 during serious crimes - and after asking for police, had to hold for several minutes before talking to anyone.

When we asked why, we were told Tulsa's 911 center has 25 percent fewer employees now than in 2005, even though the city has grown and so have the calls for help.

When people need the police in a crisis, they expect to call 911 and talk to someone immediately; they don't want to sit there and wait and wait to talk to somebody, but that's what's happening.

"I was calling 911, and it took forever," Whitley said.

Whitley was holding a baby in her arms when she came face to face with a robber holding a gun, inside the home where she works. She called 911, asked for police, was transferred, then waited and waited.

It happened twice to her and also to another woman in the house.

6/19/2014 Related Story: Frustrations Grow As Delays In Tulsa 911 System Worsen With Budget Woes

Tulsa's 911 center handles 1.2 million calls every year. When you call, they direct you to either police, fire or EMSA. Fire and EMSA are fully staffed right now, and those calls get answered quickly.

But, the police line is understaffed by eight people.

"We're there. It's just taking us a few minutes more to get to you during the heaviest periods of time," said Terry O'Malley.

There are two issues with the budget. The first is that sales taxes are down. The other is that fewer people are paying the $2.25 fee on their home phone bill that goes to 911 because fewer people have land lines.

Senate Bill 1445 would fix that. It would move that $2.25 fee onto people's cell phone bill, but lawmakers never voted on it in the last legislative session.

If you think 911 funding is important, call Tulsa city leaders and state legislators. Another way to help is don't clog up 911 with calls that are not emergencies. Those calls mean those calling in for true emergencies have to hold for help and those few minutes could be the difference between somebody living or dying.