42% of Durham 911 operator positions remain vacant as city sees surge in summer 911 calls

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — From calling to report car crashes, to shots fired, to deadly shootings, people who live in Durham tell CBS 17 they have had a hard time getting ahold of 911 in recent months.

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Some callers tell CBS 17 the phone rings for several minutes before they are able to get through.

Most recently, multiple people said they tried calling 911 to report a deadly shooting in the McDougald Terrace public housing community, but they said they had to call multiple times to get through.

“I called 911 six times, finally on the sixth time, I actually got someone from 911,” said Ashley Canady, the president at McDougald Terrace. “I know you guys are understaffed, but there’s still no excuse for it.”

Friday morning, Mayor Steve Schewel said that the Durham 911 call center is answering 80 percent of their calls in 10 seconds.

CBS 17 reached out to city officials to see how many of the calls are being answered in less than 30 seconds or 60 seconds, but that information was not readily available.

Durham city officials did say Friday that they currently have 25 openings at the Durham 911 call center.

That’s about the same number of vacancies the call center had three months ago at the beginning of the summer — CBS 17 previously reported the Durham 911 call center had 26 vacancies in May.

CBS 17 reached out to multiple counties on Friday and found that Durham had the highest number of 911 operator vacancies out of all those call centers, with only 58 percent of the positions filled at the Durham 911 call center.

Officials with the Raleigh Wake 911 call center said 95 percent of their positions are filled, Nash County said 96 percent of their positions are filled, Chatham has 87 percent of their 911 operator positions filled, and Halifax County has filled 81 percent of their positions.

“We’re getting the highest volume of calls we’ve ever gotten,” said Durham Mayor Steve Schewel. “July was the heaviest month in five years.”

Schewel said during a Friday news conference that the city is working to fill the vacancies at the Durham 911 call center, as they have four more 911 operators who are about to start taking calls on the floor.

He said there are another eight 911 operators who are in training.

“In the meantime, we’re filling them other ways,” Schewel said. “We have retirees who have come back in to do the work and we have enlarged our staff.”

CBS 17 asked the mayor if the city would consider sending some calls to another jurisdiction until the call center is fully staffed again.

Durham 911 did send an average of 1,900 calls a month to the Raleigh Wake 911 call center from Dec. 2020 to June 1, 2021.

But the mayor said that would create a slower response.

“If a call doesn’t get answered in 10 seconds, it’s usually answered in 20 seconds,” Schewel said. “It would be a lot slower to send it elsewhere.”

Schewel said to improve transparency, the city will be posting 911 call-taking data on their website so the public can see how long it’s taking for 911 calls to get answered.

That data will be posted to this website: Durham Emergency Communications Center.

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