Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders calls for review of 911 communications centre

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Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders calls for 911 review
WATCH ABOVE: As Global News has uncovered over the last two weeks, when you dial 911, your call is not always answered immediately. Caryn Lieberman confronted Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders about the issue earlier this week and has learned Saunders is taking action – Sep 15, 2017

After recent reports by Global News on 911 wait times, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has asked for a review of the service’s communications centre.

“Two days ago, I tasked Deputy Chief (Shawna) Coxon to conduct a high-level review,” Saunders wrote in an internal memo Thursday obtained by Global News.

“Based on her feedback, I am moving a superintendent to support communications and will be taking immediate steps to get more people on the floor.”

READ MORE: Significant 911 wait times reported at time of North York Sheridan Mall shooting

When asked about what changes could take place, Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in a statement that several staffing issues are being considered.

“This could mean a reconsideration of responsibilities, reassignments from within the unit, and/or a review of those communications staff that are currently assigned to other duties within the service,” she said, adding communications centre operations are a “priority” for Saunders and Coxon.

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Saunders said police will continue efforts to encourage members of the public to report non-emergencies through other means than 911.

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“We are looking at ways to encourage alternative reporting, as found in the recommendations from the Transformational Task Force, because diverting calls from 911 that have no threat to public safety is important,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Concerns grow in the GTA about 911 wait times after Global News report

“Encouraging the public to use online and in-station reporting, as well as calling the City line, 311, for City services makes sense.”

Last week, Global News reported on 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.

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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.

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.

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).

In Saunders’ memo Thursday, he said a new class of communications operators will begin in October.

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

When asked about Saunders’ comments on the communications centre in the memo, Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said the union has been pushing for increased staffing and wants to see action.

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“Now they’re starting to take little incremental action, but again we want to see some concrete action here – not more words,” he said.

With files from Caryn Lieberman

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