After reporting this week on delays for getting through to 911 dispatch, Global News has learned there were significant wait times during the recent North York Sheridan Mall shooting that left a man dead.
A source inside the Toronto Police Service communication centre shared internal call volume data from the late afternoon on Aug. 31 with Global News. It showed there were seven dispatchers on duty.
At 5:22 p.m. there were 31 calls to 911 with a waiting time of one minute and nine seconds. At the time of the shooting four minutes later, the callers jumped to 86 with a waiting time of five minutes and 27 seconds. At 5:30 p.m., there were 56 people trying to get a hold of 911 with a waiting time of seven minutes and 17 seconds.
“It’s totally unacceptable … we just don’t have the people. We need to get the people here to answer the calls,” Toronto Police Association Mike McCormack told Global News Friday when asked about the delays during the shooting.
“Talking to our (911 dispatch) communicators, they’re fed up – they’re burned out. They’re concerned not only for themselves, but for the public who are calling in and something has got to be done about this.”
The City of Toronto has a population of around 2,800,000, but the city’s police service has on average seven or eight 911 operators on shift. London, Ont., has a population of less than 400,000 and local police attempt to keep a minimum staff of six on at all times.
When asked if dispatchers could handle calls during a potential mass tragedy, McCormack said it would be difficult.
“Based on what we’re seeing here, no. We can’t handle that from a communications perspective,” he said.
“It’s not even a mass event, we can’t with this current staffing model and what’s being done in communications. We can’t deal with what we’re dealing with on a daily basis let alone a catastrophic event.”
READ MORE: Delays reported at Toronto police dispatch
The internationally accepted standard for answering 911 calls suggests 90 per cent of all calls should be picked up within 10 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.
Shelley Carroll, councillor for Ward 33 and a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, said 911 wait times fluctuate and many times wait times are only 10 to 15 seconds.
“We’ve had a couple of times recently where there’s a shooting in the area and as you can imagine, everyone phones in to say, ‘I’ve heard shots fired,’ and that creates a blip that can sometimes take a little while to resolve,” she said, adding the public education on what calls should go to 911 is an ongoing issue.
“If we were to strip away all of the non-emergency calls then all of those people who need to get through in 15 seconds.”
When asked about the call volumes during North York Sheridan Mall, Carroll said it is a concern and changes are being looked into under the Toronto police modernization task force. She said one potential change could be the ability to send text message alerts to 911.
Meanwhile, a hiring freeze at the Toronto Police Service was lifted in August and it was acknowledged that there would be “a review of the current establishment of communications operators to ensure adequate staffing levels to support public safety,” as laid out in the modernization statement released jointly by the Toronto Police Services Board, the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Association (TPA).
The TPA said there has been no update and no new hires.
Carroll said training has been scheduled for new 911 dispatchers, but she wasn’t able to say how many people will be brought on and when they might start.
Global News attempted to speak with a Toronto Police Service spokesperson Friday for comment on this story, but no one was available for an on-camera interview.
With files from Caryn Lieberman