Philadelphia City Council reviews 911 system deficiencies

City Council members hosted a hearing to talk about problems in Philly's 911 system including a 50-plus dispatcher deficit and not enough police to handle calls.

A police car parked in the middle of the road with a crime scene in the background.

A police car blocks traffic on 56th Street in West Philadelphia after a shooting at 56th and Sansom streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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The city’s 911 emergency response system came into question this summer after police were sent to an incorrect location in response to a call. On Tuesday, City Council members held a hearing to talk about what led to that incident and other problems within the system.

In July, officers were misdirected to the opposite side of the city from where the 911 call originated. That resulted in police losing an edge in a mass shooting in Kingsessing that happened about 48 hours later.

At Tuesday’s hearing, other issues with 911 were also brought up by people like Maria Rodriguez who talked about her late father Wilfredo’s futile calls to 911 while he was having a stroke.

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“On his cell phone record I have an indication of 28 calls done by him to 911, and there was never a call back or at least a wellness check,” Rodriguez said.

Councilmember Jamie Gautier said 911 needs to be more reliable.

“When the city fails to successfully respond to an emergency, neighbors lose faith in the city’s ability to keep them safe making it harder for us to combat gun violence and eroding the progress we’ve made to rebuild the essential bond between the community and the police,” she said.

Philadelphia’s 911 system handles between 2.5 million and 3 million calls a year. Dispatchers like Tomasz Rog told council members they all have issues dealing with the calls and are understaffed on a daily basis.

“I can only do as much as the streets allow me, meaning the personnel I have to utilize, so I prioritize based on the jobs I receive,” Rog said. “Now unfortunately, I wish I could send an officer to every single job as soon as it comes out, but there are Friday nights when I only have four officers working in Olney, and I have to decide which domestic is more important than another domestic.”

Council also heard about efforts to lure away dispatchers to other municipalities who pay more money. Workers called for a $15,000 pay raise to make their positions more competitive and other incentives to help retain the current staff.

Acting police commissioner John Stanford said they are working on the issues and that he would look into opportunities for advancement within the room.

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While not calling for the replacement of members of the police department that supervise the room, Standrod said “in today’s time there needs to be opportunities for advancement” in order to keep people interested in the career and not moving to another job in another place.

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