Frustrations Grow As Delays In Tulsa 911 System Worsen With Budget Woes

Thursday, June 19th 2014, 6:05 pm
By: News On 6

A rash of callers have complained about being put on hold when calling 911 during serious crimes.

It's happened at least four times in recent weeks in Tulsa, and one officer tells us it's the worst he's ever seen it.

Three times it happened during a robbery and once, as men kicked in the door of a house while an 18-year-old woman was home alone.

On Wednesday, a 24-year-old nanny holding a baby came face to face with an armed man inside the home where she works. She says she called 911 and was put on hold, not once, but twice.

A video shows a man who found an open gate at the midtown Tulsa home and walked in a side door at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Three women and two babies were inside, including Whitley, the nanny.

"He's standing there with a mask, all you could see was his eyes and he handed me an envelope that had the note written on it," she said.

The note said he didn't want to hurt anyone, but that he wanted cash and gold.

One of the other women led him to another room to get him cash and Whitley called 911.

"I was calling 911 and it took forever," Whitley said. "I thought I was calling police, but you have to actually be transferred to the actual police department and from there, I was on hold. And, if he wanted to do something, it would've already been done."

He saw her and made her hang up. She says 911 dispatch called back, but she couldn't answer. After he left, she called again.

"Before I even told the story, I was put on hold," she said.

Another woman slipped out the back and also called 911 but had the same result.

They are not alone.

Last Saturday, a man who saw robbers go into the Walgreens at 51st Street and Lewis Avenue said he called 911 and was on hold so long, the men left the store and went to an apartment complex.

Police say on June 6, a pharmacist being robbed called 911, but it was never dispatched to officers.

And last month, an 18-year-old girl was home alone when two men kicked in her door. She says she was on hold so long, her father made it there from Sapulpa before police did.

"We share the same frustration as the victim because we want to get there as quickly as possible," TPD Sgt. Brandon Watkins said. "These are extremely dangerous situations."

Tulsa's 911 director said they are way understaffed and that her budget was cut this year by $350,000.

She says she has about 25 percent fewer people working now than in 2005, even though the population has grown and so has crime.

She says only about 50 percent of the police calls are being answered within 10 seconds, which is the national standard.

It's so bad right now, they can't answer the non-emergency calls at all.

When you call 911, the first person who answers only needs to know one thing – if you need police, fire or EMSA. Then, when you get transferred to the right agency, that's when you tell them your story.

The delay for those we talked to is after that transfer.

We'll have a more in-depth look at the 911 budget issues on Friday.