It's been a month since a shootout in east Colorado Springs left one man dead and another man injured. Scott Cooper, a barber working near the crime scene, remains upset that a technician did not answer his 911 call that day.
"We were pinned down in the shop, feeling as though we were in the line of fire," he said. "The phone rang for about five minutes. You stay on the line and your life can be in jeopardy, is that how it goes?"
Staying on the line is exactly what Tina Young, the 911 communications manager, advises callers to do.
"If you've called us and couldn't get through, we'll call you back," she said. "But the best thing you can do is stay on the phone and don't hang up. We'll get to it in the order it was received."
Young said the 911 center, located in the Police Operations Center, has as many as 10 technicians who take 911 calls, and as many as eight dispatchers who send police, fire and medical crews to a scene. That's usually enough, she said, but during a major incident the call volume can be overwhelming, and it's realistically impossible to have enough staff and resources to answer a call on the first few rings during a peak period.
"Most people have cellphones out there," said Young. "What used to be three or four people reporting a traffic accident is now 13 to 20 reporting the same accident."
Young said answering 911 calls also can be delayed by people who use 911 for non-emergency reasons, and by prank calls. She said people should use the general 444-7000 number for all calls except emergencies.
Young also said the city plans to hire seven additional people for the center, and that the job is very stressful with a high turnover rate.
Young's explanation didn't exactly please Cooper.
"I accept it. Do I agree? No," he said. "When I call someone for help, I expect them to answer the phone, period."
In a related matter, Young said the city plans to hire more civilian police to address another recurring complaint that officers don't personally respond to many low-priority crimes.
The current policy is that police respond only to calls where a life is in danger, a crime is in progress or a suspect is known to be in the area. For other calls, such as a vehicle burglary, victims are asked to send in a written report, file a report online or wait for an officer to call back.
Young said the city ultimately will have four full-time and 16 part-time civilian officers, also known as community service officers, to respond to low-priority calls. The city currently has two full-time CSO's. Those officers will be unarmed and have no arrest authority, but will free patrol officers to focus on the most serious calls.
CSO's were promised late last year during the interim period of new police Chef Pete Carey. Young said the first CSO academy class will start next month.