The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has approved the creation of 50 new operator positions in the 911 communications centre in an effort to tackle increasing wait times and staffing shortages.
The high-level review, which Chief Mark Saunders tasked Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon to conduct, was voted on by the board on Wednesday. It comes months after Global News reported on lengthy 911 wait times and staffing issues inside the Toronto police communications centre.
Board members approved increasing the total complement of communications operators by 50 positions to 281, as well as adding three new supervisors and implementing, on a permanent basis, a revised shift schedule.
“Our establishment is lower than it really should be. We’ve had the same establishment – the same number of people – working there for the past 25 years,” Coxon told Global News in an interview last week.
According to the report, there were 1,845,178 calls for service in 2017. Coxon said while call volumes have remained around the same, the time spent on each call has increased by approximately 33 per cent as operators are required to gather more information. So, while 18 workers were required on a shift during peak period, the report said an extra three workers are needed, along with an extra relief staff member.
During a shooting at North York Sheridan Mall that left a man dead in August, a source inside the 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 wait time of one minute and nine seconds. At the time of the shooting four minutes later, the callers jumped to 86 with a wait 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 wait time of seven minutes and 17 seconds.
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 20 seconds.
The Toronto Police Association (TPA) launched an ad earlier this year targeting Mayor John Tory, TPSB Chair Andy Pringle and Chief Mark Saunders, saying they’re to blame for a “crisis” in staffing and response times. The TPA said at the time the service hasn’t adequately provided the appropriate level of staffing as officials work on implementing a large police modernization initiative.
“I don’t know if I would use the word crisis. I would say there was a problem. I would say that there were issues that we did need to fix,” Coxon said.
She said by the first week of July, there will be 14 or 15 more people on the floor within a 24-hour period to address immediate staffing challenges. The hiring of additional staff will be done in phases. Coxon noted the training process takes about a year and 20 to 30 per cent of recruits do not make it through the training, so she said it could take around 18 months before the impact of the new hires is fully felt within the service.
Meanwhile, Coxon said Toronto police will continue to work on educating the public about calling the appropriate telephone lines for assistance.
“Where we’re finding there are larger wait times, where we really want to improve, are those calls that are non-emergency calls for service. They take up a lot of time. It’s the same pool of people answering those calls,” she told Global News.
“It’s not just about hiring more communication operators, it’s about really educating the public in terms of where you should be calling and looking at better ways to handle those lower-level calls for service.”
Coxon said police are encouraging Toronto residents to call the non-emergency line, 416-808-2222, to report less urgent issues. She also noted low-level property crime can be reported through the Toronto police website.
— With files from Caryn Lieberman