CSPD chief niski

Police Chief Niski: Call center is short-handed.

The Colorado Springs Police Department is short a quarter of the number needed in its call center, which is having a big impact on how soon calls get answered. In turn, that slows the CSPD's response to people who are in grave danger and need help.

"We are currently down 23 positions in the Communication’s Center which is approximately 25% of their staff.  We currently have 12 vacant ERT (call takers) positions and 11 Public Safety Dispatcher positions," Police Chief Vince Niski said in an email to a citizen who complained to City Council, obtained by the Indy. "This has a direct impact on our ability to answer calls in a timely manner."

In fact, emergency call data shows that in September, the most recent available, the average answer time for 911 calls for CSPD was more than 23 seconds, four times longer than the next slowest response, which was 6.3 seconds charted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The data also show that nearly 4,500, or 18 percent, of the 24,500 calls received during that month hung up before the call was answered. That can result from a number of reasons, including that people get tired of waiting for an answer.

In January of this year, the CSPD's average answer time to 911 calls was 16 seconds, and 17 percent of the 19,507 calls received that month hung up before being answered. Data for timeliness of answering calls to the CSPD's main number weren't immediately available.

The original complaint came from a citizen who called the CSPD's main number, not 911, last week when a traffic signal on Cheyenne Road and Cascade Avenue remained red for 10 minutes, causing traffic to back up to the Tejon Street round-about.

"People were honking their horns to make traffic move," the citizen wrote to Council on Nov. 11. "But we couldn't go anywhere because the light was red.

"I spent 20 minutes on hold with 719-444-7000 and I finally hung up. I DO NOT understand why this is happening. As concerned citizen, I was attempting to make our city a better place. I guess the city does not want to hear from me or anyone else for that matter," the citizen wrote. "What is more important then [sic] saving peoples' lives?"

In his Nov. 15 response, Niski wrote, "I am embarrassed to say our answer times are not what we would like them to be both on the non-emergency lines as well as the 911 lines."

He also noted the department, like other agencies and businesses, is having trouble hiring qualified people, and when people are hired, they discover they're "dealing with people in dire need of police and/or fire assistance" and "they leave due to the pressure of the job."

"We are doing continuous hiring to try and fill the vacant positions but cannot get that done fast enough," he wrote.

The citizen then countered that "it makes my heart sick to learn that citizens of our city are not able to receive the care they deserve, in a timely manner, because of serious lag time in answering the 911 calls."

Niski then advised the citizen the CSPD plans "to modify our recruiting efforts later this year and into 2022" and hopes to remedy the situation.

That time line doesn't sit well with at least one City Council member.

Bill Murray calls Niski's strategy "totally unacceptable" in an email to Council. Not only is the department below its sworn authorized strength, but also lacks call takers in its communications center, he notes.

Murray says those issues arise from a leadership lapse and that "[s]omeone was sleeping at the wheel."

He also notes Council and Mayor John Suthers have made sure the CSPD is adequately funded, so money has not been a barrier.

Murray vowed to push for more answers and a more swift solution.

"During these budget deliberations," he tells his colleagues, "I will again demand an action plan to bring communications back to 100% and back any and all requested resources. Without successful resolution I will be asking for a management change." 

The mayor selects department heads, however, not Council, which only has authority to confirm or reject those appointments.

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.