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911 on hold: Delays reported at Toronto police dispatch

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When you call 911, you expect to hear a voice on the other end and hope that person will answer quickly. But that may not be the case in Toronto.

“Often times for the entire city of Toronto – all the 911 calls – we often only have six or seven people answering calls,” Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association (TPA), told Global News Tuesday.

The internationally accepted standard for answering 911 calls suggests 90 per cent of all calls should be picked up within ten seconds – even during the busiest time of day. The guideline is laid out by the operating procedures committee of the National Emergency Number Association. Additionally, 95 per cent of all 911 calls should be answered within twenty seconds.

READ MORE: Nearly 1 in 5 calls to 911 in York Region so far in 2017 were unintentional, police say

But that may be unlikely to happen considering McCormack said there are often far less communications personnel answering calls than should be, up to three times less.

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The Toronto Police Service points to the overuse of 911 as part of the problem.

“If you’re calling 911 and it’s not an emergency then you’re endangering people who are in genuine emergencies, when you add to that pocket dials and butt dials, it’s a serious problem,” Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said.

Issues with delayed call response time were addressed in an August meeting involving the Toronto Police Services Board, Toronto Police Service and Toronto Police Association.

READ MORE: Toronto police 911 dispatch issues resolved after ‘technical difficulties’

A joint statement was subsequently released noting that “a review of the current establishment of communications operators to ensure adequate staffing levels to support public safety” was agreed upon.

“We brought that forward to the chief and the (TPSB) chair over a month ago saying we need appropriate staffing, adequate staffing at our communication bureau, this is something that is going to jeopardize public safety and we brought these concerns forward and nothing has been done about it,” McCormack said.

But Pugash said the issue is not about manpower.

“Mike McCormack’s answer is always more, more, more, and that’s just not a viable answer. We have to use our resources in the best possible way and we’re working very much towards that,” he said.

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“If you have 40 or 50 people calling 911 at more or less the same time with calls that aren’t emergencies, that’s the focus of the problem and that’s where progress has to be made.”

With files from Nick Westoll

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