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Report of Investigation 98-205
Investigation of the Metropolitan Police Department’s 911 and 1010 Emergency Telephone System
June 1998




Dorothy Brizill
Bonnie Cain
Jim Dougherty
Gary Imhoff
Phil Mendelson
Mark David Richards
Sandra Seegars


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1.0 Predication
2.0 Background
3.0 Finding Number 1
3.1 Finding Number 2
3.2 Finding Number 3
4.0 Summary



1.0 Predication:

This investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was initiated as a result of numerous citizen complaints to the Inspector General regarding the 911 (emergency) and 727-1010 (1010) (non- emergency) telephone system of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The complaints generally concerned calls to 911 or 1010 that were not answered, answered after significant delays, put on hold, or for any other reason did not result in prompt action by the MPD.

This Report of Investigation examines the processes involved in the emergency telephone system to identify causes of the delays and the lack of prompt police response, and to make recommendations for corrective action.

2.0 Background:

The Operations Branch, under the Technical Services Bureau within the Communications Division of the MPD, manages the 911 emergency and 1010 non-emergency telephone system. Since the mission of the MPD is to eliminate crime, fear of crime, and disorder, while establishing respect and trust within the community, the goal of the Communications Division is to answer emergency calls within 5 seconds and non-emergency calls within 12 seconds, and promptly to dispatch the appropriate assistance to each caller Operations Branch is staffed by civilian personnel and is responsible for receiving, recording, and classifying requests for police services received by telephone or radio from the public or other law enforcement agencies, and to assign such requests to the appropriate component of the Department.

The Telephone Receipt Clerks (TRC) answer 911 and 1010 calls for police assistance. Dispatchers are responsible for directing police units to respond to emergencies in their assigned zones. A Dispatcher can function as a TRC, but a TRC cannot function as a Dispatcher. The TRCs and Dispatchers are supervised by Shift Supervisors, and the sections are supervised by Watch Commanders. TRCs receive 8-10 weeks of classroom and on-the-job training. TRCs who demonstrate an ability to perform dispatching duties can be promoted to the Dispatcher position. Dispatchers receive an additional 2 weeks of classroom training plus 240 hours of on-the-job training.

The Telephone Reporting Unit (TRU) is located in the Public Safety Communications Center, 310 McMillan Drive, NW. The TRY takes reports for non-urgent incidents such as damage to property, lost property, stolen auto, destruction of property, stolen tags, stolen bicycles, animal bites, and hit and run accidents.

In August 1979, the Communications Division inaugurated its new Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system is an automated online, real- time computer system which assists MPD in providing rapid response to emergency 911 calls and 1010 non- emergency calls. Information regarding each call for emergency police assistance is typed by the TRCs on a system-generated Complaint Event Record and routed to a Dispatcher.

Depending on the location of the emergency, the CAD computer software determines which Dispatcher the call is routed to. This information is displayed on the appropriate Dispatcher's computer terminal in order to enable him or her to dispatch police help to the emergency. The system monitors the current disposition of all MPD field units. When a police car is dispatched, the system logs its dispatch time, monitors the elapsed time out of service, and logs the time the police car returns to service.

The CAD system significantly assists Dispatchers in maintaining control over emergencies and resources for which they are responsible. For example, prioritizing calls for service enables the Dispatcher quickly to select from the list of pending emergencies the next most urgent request for assistance. The CAD system operates around the clock, seven days a week.

CAD also interfaces directly with the Washington Area Law Enforcement System (WALES). WALES is a large communications network, hosted on mainframe computers located in MPD’s Public Safety Computer Center. It provides the officer on the street with information, such as related to stolen vehicles and wanted individuals. CAD information is transferred to WALES to update the WALES system, and CAD personnel may also access information in WALES.

Over the next 4 years, 1998-2001, the MPD will develop a new Joint Public Safety Communications Center to enhance emergency service delivery. Over $48 million has been appropriated for this Information Technology Initiative. The Joint Public Safety Communications Center will operate one centralized 911 system within the public protection agencies. The 911 emergency call-taking and dispatching centers of the Fire Department, Police Department, Emergency Medical Service, and the Office of Emergency Preparedness will be combined in the joint communications center, which will be located at 320 McMillan Drive, NW, near the present Center.

Citizen complaints about 911 or 1010 service are recorded on a “Communications Complaint Form 1”. All complaints are required to be investigated by a Shift Supervisor or a Watch Commander. Pursuant to this procedure, a report of investigation is written in each case, and the complaint is either sustained or not sustained. The citizen who made the complaint is contacted and advised of the results of the investigation, and a notation is made on the complaint form that the results of the investigation were discussed with the citizen.

This Report, although addressing a broader scope of communications issues, substantiated several of the findings presented by Special Counsel Mark H. Tuohey before the City Council’s Special Committee on Police Misconduct, on June 1, 1998.


The Communications Division is not accomplishing its mission of answering emergency calls within 5 seconds, or non-emergency calls within 12 seconds.


The emergency telephone system is maintained by Bell-Atlantic. Examination of the system-generated data between January and May 1998, pertaining to delays in answering 911 and 1010 calls, revealed that for the 5-month period examined, a total of 249,373 calls were made to 911. The data available does not show precisely how many of these calls were answered within 5 seconds, because the time periods on the system are not divided that way However, the data does reveal:

  • Calls answered within 8 seconds totaled 167, 908
  • Calls answered within 16 to 80 seconds totaled 4 9, 24 9
  • Abandoned calls (calls not answered) totaled 32,216 [Exhibits 5.1,5.2] .

For the same 5-month period, a total of 308, 526 calls were made to 1010 and answered as follows:

  • Calls answered within 8 seconds totaled 164, 406
  • Calls answered within 16 to 80 seconds totaled 98, 549
  • Abandoned calls (calls not answered) totaled 45, 571 [Exhibits 5 .3, 5. 4] .

The Operations Branch has 15 terminals for receiving 911 and 1010 calls. Calls to 911 that are not answered after 7 rings receive the following system announcement:

“Due to a large volume of emergency calls for assistance, there is a brief delay in answering your call. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered.”

Calls to 1010 that are not answered after 7 rings receive the following system announcement:

“You have reached the Metropolitan Police Department's non-emergency number 727-1010. Due to a large number of emergency calls there is a brief delay in answering your call. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered. Should you have an emergency please dial 911” [Exhibit 5.5].


The reason that the Communications Division is unable to handle calls in a timely fashion is that, on a regular basis, insufficient numbers of TRCs and Dispatchers are reporting for work. Abuse of sick leave appears to be the primary cause of this deficiency.


The Operations Branch consists of 3 sections — A, B. and C, as well as the TRU. The 3 sections work the following shifts:

Section B – 0700 to 1500 hours
Section A – 1500 to 2300 hours
Section C – 2300 to 0700 hours

In the Operations Branch there are 15 terminals for receiving 911 and 1010 calls, and 10 terminals for dispatching assistance to citizens. Therefore, a fully manned shift would consist of 15 TRCs and 11 Dispatchers (including one “Floater”). This is the ideal number of employees working each shift and would enable the Operations Branch to be fully effective. In management’s view, the minimum number of employees necessary for a shift adequately to accomplish its mission is 10 TRCs and 10 Dispatchers. Below that minimum, a shift cannot effectively accomplish its mission. In reality, while 10 Dispatchers usually report for work, shifts regularly do not have more than 7 TRCs [Exhibits 5.6,5.7]. Even more ominous, the number of TRCs reporting for a shift often falls to 5 or 6 [Exhibit 5.8]. This deficit must be made up by holding workers over from the previous shift.

According to management, the principal reason for these staff shortages is the abuse of sick leave by the Operations Branch employees.

TRCs and Dispatchers do not have weekends off due to the much higher volume of calls on weekends. Requests to take leave on weekends are granted based on seniority. Unfortunately, it is quite common for TRCs and Dispatchers to call in sick on weekends [Exhibit 5.9].

MPD management advised that one reason for the unusual amount of sick leave by TRCs may be caused by job-related stress. There is a great deal of stress associated with taking 911 calls. TRCs answer 911 calls from frantic children and callers who have been stabbed, beaten, or shot, or are threatening to commit suicide. Moreover, a review of the Communications Division Complaint Control Logs for 1996 and 1998, and Communications Complaint Form 1 for 1997, revealed that an average of 28% of 911 and 1010 callers complained about rude TRCs. Rudeness is a common outward manifestation of stress.

The training curriculum for TRCs and Dispatchers does not include material which would prepare TRCs to handle the stress associated with their duties. Nor does the Communications Division offer stress management counseling.

However, management concedes that even taking stress into consideration, sick leave in all probability has been abused. It is also management’s view that if sick leave continues at its current rate, 22 additional TRCs will have to be hired in order to make all shifts fully operational. This would increase the total number of TRCs from 37 to 59. However, if sick leave abuse were to be substantially eliminated, current staffing levels would be adequate. While management is taking measures to monitor the use of sick leave with a view towards eliminating its abuse, it is too early to tell whether these efforts will substantially affect a course of conduct that appears to be deeply ingrained in the TRC and Dispatcher experience [Exhibit 10]. Disciplinary action is not generally taken in cases of sick leave abuse. In fact, management has expressed to the OIG its concern that employees might quit their jobs if meaningful sanctions were taken as a remedy for sick leave abuse.

Another aspect of the staffing problem that requires comment is the salary level of the personnel answering emergency and non-emergency calls in the District. Their salaries range from $20,982 to $26,920 (or an average of $23,951) for TRCs and from $23,173 to $29,795 (or an average of $26,484) for dispatchers. In Fairfax County, Virginia, operators and dispatchers are in the same pay scale, and their salaries range from $26,214 to $44,835. The City of Alexandria also uses the same pay scale for both types of workers, and salaries range from $27,970 to $43,911. In Prince Georges County, Maryland, Dispatchers make from $23,434 to $38,922 in their first year, and $28,647 - $47,991 after three years. In Montgomery County, operators and dispatchers, who are in the same pay scale, make from $25,356 to $41,433. Only in the City of Baltimore are the salaries comparable to D.C. The salaries there start at $20,500 for operators and $25,000 for dispatchers.

Considering the amount of stress inherent in the job, and the high degree of judgment and attention to detail required, it is remarkable that these salaries are so low.


Increase salary levels for TRCs and Dispatchers so that they are comparable to those in most surrounding jurisdictions;

Develop a policy aimed at eliminating the abuse of sick leave. Such a policy might include strict disciplinary actions and imposing leave restrictions;

If the policy, or other measures, aimed at eliminating the abuse of sick leave is not effective, then consider hiring up to an additional 22 TRCs in order to make the Operations Branch fully operational;

Require physical and psychological suitability testing as part of the screening process for prospective TRCs, and develop a stress management program for TRCs and Dispatchers;

Require Police Officers who are on paid administrative leave to serve as TRCs;

Conduct a review and comparative study of the 911 and non-emergency systems used by neighboring jurisdictions. For example, the Baltimore Police Department has 25 Terminal positions for receiving 911 and 311 (non-emergency) calls. Generally, 16 positions are operated in the 911 mode, and 9 positions are operated in the 311 mode. The operating mode of the terminals is interchangeable. In the event of a city-wide emergency, all positions, or as many as necessary, can be switched to the 911 mode. Civilians staff the 911 positions, and Police Officers, on limited duty, staff the 311 positions;

Baltimore operates three shifts: 6:30 a.m.– 2:30 p.m.; 2:30 p.m.– 10:30 p.m.; 10:30 p.m.– 6:30 a.m. All shifts are not staffed at the same level. Based on their experience, the morning shift does not require all positions to be manned;

Sick leave in Baltimore is accumulated at the rate of 1 day a month (12 days a year). A doctor's note is required after 2 days of sick leave, and disciplinary action is taken if this rule is violated. In fact, employees have been terminated for abusing sick leave or for being physically unfit; and

In Baltimore, in 1997, 1.1 million 911 calls were received — or almost twice as many as in the District, and 604,753 calls were received on 311 — or slightly less than in the District. The average time taken to answer 911 calls in Baltimore is 2 seconds (there is no data on how long it takes to answer 311 calls).

Stress management is part of Baltimore's training program. Its annual in-service training program includes:

  • A presentation on stress management by consultants;
  • A presentation by the Police Officer Critical Incident Team; and
  • The Chaplain Program — a city-funded, ongoing stress management counseling service available to operators and dispatchers at any time.

Thus, in terms of sick leave, stress management, positions filled, and efficiency of the system, Baltimore is substantially ahead of the District.


The MPD is not responding in a timely fashion to the scene of emergency and non-emergency requests for assistance.


In calendar years 1996, 1997, and through May 19, 1998, the Operations Branch received 130, 162 and 94 citizen complaints, respectively. Review of the Communications Division’s Complaint Control logs for 1996 and 1998, and Communications Complaint Form 1 for 1997, revealed many citizen complaints concern slow or no Police responses. In 1996, 77 (60%) of the 130 complaints concerned slow or no Police responses. In 1997, 62 (38%) of the 162 complaints concerned slow or no Police responses. Through May 1998, 31 (33%) of the 94 complaints concerned slow or no Police responses.

Operations Branch management cited two principal reasons for complaints concerning slow or no Police responses. First is a shortage of Police Officers. In this regard, according to the MPD Human Resources Bureau, the number of Police Officers has fluctuated over the last few years. In 1996, there were 3,561 officers, and 3,636 in 1997. Currently, there are 3,591 sworn officers. MPD is actively recruiting for additional officers.

The second reason cited is the new concept in community policing known as the Police Service Area (PSA). In July 1997, MPD implemented a new strategy of community policing. This strategy put residents in direct contact with officers who work in their PSAs. The basic unit of the MPD is the PSA team. The primary mission and responsibilities of the PSA team include:

  • Eliminating crime, fear and disorder in the assigned PSA and building trust and respect in neighborhoods and communities;
  • Accepting full accountability for crime, fear and disorder in the assigned PSA;
  • Coordinating and deploying all resources in the PSA;
  • Establishing and maintaining consistency in the PSA to ensure that high standards are maintained, and retaining the flexibility required to adjust to the changing needs of PSA team's primary customers; and
  • Developing relationships with the community and mobilizing community volunteers and other resources in the PSA.

By Special Order of former Chief of Police Larry D. Soulsby, dated August 31, 1997, mandatory minimum staffing levels were set for each of the 83 PSAs, and procedures were established for maintaining minimum staffing levels [Exhibit 5.11].

Each police district is divided into PSAs, and Police Officers are assigned to a specific PSA. The MPD districts are divided as follows:

1st District — 12 PSAs
2nd District — 9 PSAs
3rd District — 14 PSAs
4th District — 14 PSAs
5th District — 13 PSAs
6th District — 10 PSAs
7th District — 11 PSAs

PSA team members must report to their Dispatcher upon reporting for duty and going off duty. The Dispatcher enters the duty status of the PSA team into the CAD. Under the new strategy of community policing, Police Officers are only dispatched within their assigned PSA .

However, PSA teams are not always available for assignments. Reasons for this include, but are not limited to, personal leave, sick leave, court appearances, temporary detail, training, meetings, and limited duty status. When a PSA team is not available for assignment, the Dispatcher must wait until another team from the same PSA becomes available, unless the operator deems the call to be of the highest priority. Requests for emergency assistance must be held in a pending mode on the CAD Waiting Calls Screen. A waiting call that is a Priority One is displayed in red on the CAD monitor and is assigned to the next available PSA team [Exhibit 5.12].

In order to alleviate duplicate calls and complaints regarding slow Police responses, TRCs now recite, pursuant to a Division Order dated December 18, 1997, the following closing statement to callers with non-priority emergencies:

“This report will only be handled by an officer assigned to your Patrol Service Area (PSA), therefore a delayed response can be expected.” [Exhibit 5.13].


It is beyond the ambit of this investigation to evaluate the overall value of the PSA policing system. But any future study of that system must take into consideration the limitations it imposes upon quick responses to emergency calls. Even assuming that there is utility generally in assigning police units to their own PSAs and concentrating their efforts there, does it make sense to use the PSA system as a barrier to “intrusion” by otherwise available police units from other PSAs that are attempting to answer a true emergency?

Conduct a quality assurance study to ascertain the level of customer satisfaction with the new policing strategy.


The universal number recognized as a lifeline for individuals in distress is “911” Being able to make immediate connection with a 911 operator followed by a quick response from a police officer is the hallmark of a properly functioning emergency telephone system.

The District of Columbia MPD must make significant changes to improve its 911 emergency telephone system. MPD must elevate the operation of the 911 emergency telephone system to the same level as the important function it serves. The technology behind the emergency telephone system must be up-to-date. Employees operating the emergency telephone system must be highly qualified and properly trained. Salaries must also reflect the importance and degree of responsibility placed on the person occupying the position.

Citizens calling 911 for emergency assistance must be able to speak immediately to an operator and not have to listen to a recording instructing them to stay on the line. The caller may not have that option. Citizens should not have to abandon their calls to 911, only to call again and again in an attempt to reach a live person.

There are only two possible answers here. One is to treat stress as inevitable, assume that there will continue to be excessive sick leave, and hire enough additional employees to bring the working staff to acceptable levels. The problem with this solution is that it presumes that stress really is the primary cause of the current level of excessive sick leave — a presumption that is not at all clear from the known facts — and it further presumes that additional employees will not become subject to the same levels of stress — another presumption that is highly suspect. Even if sick leave is directly related to stress, the stress inherent in the job of answering emergency calls does not stem primarily from too few people manning the phones but rather from the nature of the calls themselves (no matter how many there are). Therefore, whether stress is a legitimate part of the problem, or largely a ruse, or some combination of the two, hiring additional personnel will not entirely correct the present situation.

What makes more sense is to combine a larger staff with (a) an effective program to combat stress and fatigue and (b) zero tolerance for feigned illness. There clearly must be additional employees. Under any construction, the present staff is too small to respond effectively to the number of calls now being received. But adding employees who themselves either become incapacitated or take advantage of the situation to remain at home will only exacerbate the problem. An effective health insurance program will pay for itself both by making more people available for work and by eliminating any excuse to remain away.

Thus, a stress management program should be available for all 911 employees. Citizens should expect that operators will be courteous and assuring and not rude because of the stress associated with their job.

Prompt response by the police is a must. Sufficient police units should always be available to respond to emergencies. A delayed response may be no better than not responding at all.

Citizens have a right to expect that in the event of an emergency, their lifeline to the Police will not fail them.

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