The Fort Worth police department did not meet its own response-time goals in nearly half of high-priority emergency calls and nearly one in four 911 callers reached a recording and hung up before an operator picked up, according to a city audit obtained by NBC 5.
The department reached its goal of arriving at Priority 1 calls in eight minutes and 54 seconds only 54% of the time, according to the report by the city's internal audit department.
Priority 1 calls include life-and-death emergencies such as robberies, shootings and sexual assaults.
The department's goal for Priority 2 calls, which don't pose an immediate threat to someone's life but still require a rapid response, is 17 minutes and 18 seconds. The goal for the lowest Priority 3 calls is 52 minutes.
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Officers met those goals for lower-priority calls 63% of the time, the audit said.
Auditors reviewed call data from Oct. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2020.
Chief Neil Noakes declined an interview request about the audit but did issue a written statement saying the city has made improvements in recent months.
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"We have since increased our efforts and pay to retain employees and hire new staff to fill our vacant positions," the statement said. "We are starting to see positive changes as a result of these efforts."
The department currently has 21 vacancies in the communications division and is actively working to fill them, Officer Jimmy Pollozani, a police spokesman said.
The goal for Priority 1 calls is a flat eight minutes, not the 8:54 reported in the audit, he added.
The review was ordered last summer after north Fort Worth mother Jamie Haswell complained nobody answered her desperate 911 calls when her 2-year-old daughter Mila stopped breathing.
"It just went to a recording," Haswell said at the time. "Honestly, I thought my baby was dying in my arms."
Haswell hopped in a neighbor's car and rushed to the hospital.
Her daughter was diagnosed with a febrile seizure, a usually harmless convulsion in young children, and ended up being just fine.
In June 2021, the month of Haswell's ordeal, 23% of calls to the city's 911 center were "abandoned," the audit found.
Calls unanswered within 15 seconds are sent to a recorded message urging callers to stay on the line, but many callers hang up and the call is considered "abandoned."
Dispatchers try calling back twice, the audit said.
Some incidents, such as a major accident on a highway, can result in many calls to 911 at the same time and explain some delays in answering.
But Fort Worth's 911 center was plagued by understaffing during the time covered in the audit.
'NO GUIDELINES' FOR CALCULATING RESPONSE TIMES
The police department has "no guidelines for calculating police response times," and Noakes should establish written policies, auditors said.
Auditors also recommended the chief routinely review police response times to determine if they are appropriate and take action to speed them up.
The department agreed with both recommendations.
The audit found Fort Worth had the highest response-time goal compared to other large cities in Texas.
In Houston, for example, the goal is four to six minutes. In Dallas, it's eight minutes.
But the audit noted those cities measure their response from the time an officer is dispatched to a call rather than the time a call is first received, which is the case in Fort Worth.
Manny Ramirez, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said he appreciates the audit as a way to highlight deficiencies in the system.
It points to a staffing shortage of both officers on the street and employees at the 911 center, he said.
"The first responsibility of any government is to keep its citizens safe and to provide for public safety," Ramirez said. "When someone calls 911, they have to have faith that someone is going to pick up on the other end of the line."
City council member Cary Moon heads the internal audit committee.
"The goal with the audit is to inspect the processes we have in place and to improve on any findings," Moon said.
Haswell, the mother whose horror story sparked the audit, said the number of unanswered 911 calls the audit found is "mind-blowing."
"I want it to be known that I support the police, respect them, and am so thankful for each officer and dispatcher and their service to our community," she said. "I just hope and pray something as vital as the 911 system in place can be fixed as well as these response times."
Editor's Note: Fort Worth police clarified on Tuesday that the correct goal for Priority 1 calls is eight minutes, 54 seconds and not eight minutes as a spokesman initially said on Monday.