FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Broward County's emergency call center is greatly understaffed and the sheriff told county commissioners his agency does not have the money to fill the empty positions.
In addition, Sheriff Gregory Tony said Tuesday that he is also having a difficult time retaining other dispatchers who can make more money elsewhere.
“We’re going to continue to lose these people,” he warned. “This will always be a problem here whether we want to admit it or not.”
Some Broward County Commissioners told the sheriff to fix the issues immediately.
“Give everybody a raise ... and you won’t lose anybody,” Commissioner Mark Bogen told the sheriff. “You got the money to do that right now without us giving you a penny.”
Tony told commissioners Tuesday he’s not going to make “random or quick decisions” that can create other problems. He agreed to make a presentation outlining financial needs at the May 10 commission meeting.
The understaffing came to light in a South Florida SunSentinel investigation that documented thousands of unanswered 911 calls. The newspaper found that abandoned calls, those which are disconnected before they are answered, increased 26% from 2019 to 2021. In February, there were 14,505 abandoned calls. That is the latest month for which statistics are available.
Sheriff's officials said high stress and pay that is not competitive are reasons for the understaffing.
Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, who served as the state's emergency management director until last year, said county government does not move quickly, sending issues to committees before anything happens. “I look at this as a real-time problem.”
He cited as an example a house in Hollywood that burned to the ground last month after calls to 911 went unanswered.
“Problems don’t get better with time in emergency management, they get worse," Moskowitz said. “What happened in this instance was a tragedy, and the sheriff is telling us it’s going to happen again.”
The SunSentinel story mentioned the house fire, along with other examples of people whose 911 calls went unanswered. These included a man with a medical emergency and a family whose baby was turning blue, and later died after the father took the child to the hospital.
Moskowitz asked for “the number is to fix this,” whether it was $250,000 or $500,000. “If dollars help address this, then let’s just appropriate the dollars.”
Tony did not have a number instantly, but said he’ll get it ready for commissioners. “We’ll come back with a needs request,” he said.
County commissioners seemed frustrated by some of the non-answers they got and wondered how it got to this point.
”Is Broward meeting the national standards?” Commissioner Steve Geller asked, referring to expectations that 90% of emergency calls get answered within 15 seconds.
“Yes, there are occasions where we fall short,” Sheriff's Colonel Nichole Anderson responded. ”For the most part we are meeting it,” she said. “More times than not” the agency meets its standards.
”It’s the qualifier you keep adding at the end that is bothering me,” Geller said.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.