911 callers in Portland face lengthy hold times amid efforts to defund the police

"We're at a tipping point now. It's become unmanageable. The system is broken."

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Portland residents calling 911 for emergencies are facing a dramatic increase in hold times, with officials saying that the system is "broken."

According to The Oregonian, starting in the late spring, the riot-gripped city has faced a sharp increase in 911 calls placed on hold for two minutes or longer.

The national standard for 911 hold times is 15 to 20 seconds, but according to data from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications obtained by The Oregonian, 574 of the 911 calls in the city had to wait on hold for more than five minutes in July. This number is more than double that of May, in which 221 calls waited that long, and is drastically more than the figure in March, when only eight 911 calls took more than five minutes to answer.

Bob Cozzie, director of Portland's Bureau of Emergency Communications, said, "I think it's horrible. There's no other way to state it," in regards to the dramatic jump in wait times. "We're at a tipping point now. It's become unmanageable," he said, acknowledging the delay. "The system is broken."

Cozzie noted that a significant increase in the volume of 911 and non-emergency calls that his department receives, as well as a staffing shortage, were contributing to the hold time increase. "Compared to a year ago, the bureau has experienced a 20 percent to 45 percent increase in 911 calls so far this year depending on the week," wrote The Oregonian. In July, residents made 63,573 calls to 911, representing a 22 percent jump from July of 2020. 911 calls in July 2020 represented only a 2 percent increase over July 2019.

On Sept. 4 during a shootout at a Pearl District restaurant, callers had to wait more than 7.5 minutes before a dispatcher answered.

The increase in both the number of calls to 911, and the longer hold times, comes as the city experiences an increase in homicides.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, between January and July 2021, 52 people have died in homicides in Portland. During the same period last year, just 26 people died as a result of homicides.

The rise in violence also comes as the city faces resignations of a portion of its law enforcement officers amid efforts to defund the police. In June, all officers on the Rapid Response Team, which responds to riots, civil unrest, and protests like many of which that have plagued the city for over a year, resigned from their posts.


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