CAO letter regarding NHPD Reporting changes

September 14, 2011

Dear Members of the Public Safety Committee:

In response to concerns you raised at the September 7th Public Safety Committee workshop, the Department of Public Safety Communication (DPSC) will be suspending the recent “expedited report” change.

As you know, the DPSC has been working on several changes designed to improve service and save costs.  Our Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) is facing a set of challenges common to most PSAPs across the country where an increasing call volume is making it more difficult to handle both emergency and non-emergency calls.  Take one example to illustrate the challenge: before cell phones became as common, a major motor vehicle accident that might have generated one or two calls now might result in a dozen 9-1-1 calls inundating the PSAP at the same time. 

Above all else, the changes that the DPSC is working on are intended to maximize the availability of PSAP operators to answer incoming calls.  Tasks that tie up operators that can be automated or done a different way will free them to take non-emergency calls, and it will also increase the ability to make sure that the essential function of answering 9-1-1 calls is not compromised, which is now still a very real concern despite a procedure that is in place to drop non-essential tasks when 9-1-1 calls are waiting.

The DPSC is working on the following changes:
Ø      Cross-training.  Four years ago, the police and fire call centers were relocated to the same place.  Over the last two years, a new civilian management has worked to combine these two operations and cross-train all staff so that when a crunch hits the PSAP, there is a larger pool of employees available to help out with answering 9-1-1 calls, dispatching or doing whatever is most urgent.  All staff are now cross-trained in answering police, fire and medical calls, and cross-training of dispatchers is progressing on track.
Ø      Officer voicemail.  A large amount of the operators’ time is consumed taking messages for police officers.  As part of a new phone system that will save a significant amount of money, we will soon have voicemail for all police officers.  This system will come with a reminder system that will prompt officers to check their voicemail when messages are waiting.
Ø      Automated directory.  The new phone system will also include an automated directory on the non-emergency number.  A significant number of calls to the PSAP are people using the center as a directory for the police department.  The new directory will start with the message to hang up and dial 9-1-1 if the call is an emergency, and then allow the caller to immediately reach an operator if they do not want to use the directory.  Callers who are not looking for the directory will spend a very minimal amount of time before they speak with a live operator.
Ø      Street-sweeping tows.  When cars are being towed from a street-sweeping route, the PSAP is often inundated with calls.  A change in procedure in 2008 reduced the number of street-sweeping tows from over 10,000 annually to half that number by improving noticing, but we are working to: 1) continue to improve noticing, and 2) review the system to make it easier to locate a towed car.  This second set of changes is part of a larger review of the tow ordinances and system that is currently underway.

The “expedited report” change that was implemented ended the practice of PSAP operators taking dictation for reports of lost, damaged or stolen property.  This change was made both to free up operator availability from the 4000+ such reports done annually (tying up operators for approximately 1000 hours), but also to improve the integrity of the reports.  A large portion of these calls are made to generate a police report and case number that can be submitted to an insurance company for a claim.  Because all that was necessary to successfully get a case number was to call the non-emergency number, the Police Department expressed concern that the practice easily allowed for fraud or inaccurate reporting (for example: property lost in another jurisdiction reported as lost in New Haven because it is easier to get a case number).

The new procedure required individuals who wanted a police report or case number to come to police headquarters in person; fill out a form describing the lost, damaged or stolen property; sign the form under penalty of false reporting; and show an ID (exceptions were provided to those with a disability).  Originally all individuals reporting stolen property had to go to police headquarters, but the policy was amended to allow those who did not need a police report or case number to mail in a description of the theft.  These written reports would then be entered into the police computer system during the midnight shift by PSAP operators, when call volume is lowest.

While concerns about tying up PSAP operator resources and the integrity of the police reports remain, this change is being suspended.  In the absence of a perfect solution, we had felt that the benefits of this change outweighed the negatives, but the feedback we have received have proven us wrong.  I will continue to work with the DPSC to explore ways that we can achieve the goals behind this change without imposing a further burden on recent victims of crime.

I thank you for your interest in our City’s public safety, your support of changes that have improved the effectiveness and efficiency of city services, and your help catching changes that are not achieving those goals.

Very truly yours,

Robert Smuts
Chief Administrative Officer