Rawlings on 911 failures: 'I didn't kick enough rear throughout that organization'

Newsmaker: Mayor Rawlings answers questions on 911 problems

DALLAS – A frustrated Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings accepted blame for the city’s 911 failures and said he’s disappointed action wasn’t taken earlier to solve the issues.

"I blame me as the mayor. The buck's gotta stop here. Obviously, I didn't kick enough rear throughout that organization,” said Rawlings on WFAA-TV’s Inside Texas Politics this morning.

For weeks, people calling for emergency help were ending up on indefinite hold, including calls during a bank robbery and a woman whose car was getting shot at. 

The city initially blamed T-Mobile for causing the back-ups.

But the mayor, clearly fed up during the WFAA interview, suggested city engineers and vendors didn’t have a clear understanding about it months ago.

“Incidences came up in October. I’ve been told folks thought they were anomalies. We knew we had a serious issue in December. Work started to take place but [the problem] would come and go.  People didn’t know whether it was a real thing or not. I am very disappointed that we did not have all-hands-on-deck like we have had the last few days two weeks ago,” said Rawlings. 

Dallas 911 has experienced a major failure before and the city promised change, though it was never fully enacted.

In 2012, after Deanna Cook was murdered in a high-profile incident of domestic violence, the city said it would increase staffing and spend more money on 911 infrastructure.

RELATED: Dallas will pay $335k to fight murder victim's lawsuit

But Dallas did not fully update its infrastructure and staffing increases were not sustained.

“The infrastructure was improved but marginally. More on hold lines were put in place,” said Rawlings. 

One week after its worst day yet with 911 calls, the city is reporting a major turnaround, that 92 percent of calls made Saturday were answered with 10 seconds. None were put on hold. According to Sana Syed, public information director for the city, said the industry average is 90 percent. 

Rawlings said he hopes the city’s new plan will solve the current problems.

“If someone called 911 and put on hold, T-Mobile was sending a second call through. The provider stopped that,” said Rawlings. “Secondly, [we’re] adding more on-hold lines. It won’t ring forever. You’ll get to on hold faster, and we’re going to significantly increase the number of call [takers]. Those three things every night is going to be a success or failure, and that’s what we’re going to be tracking,” he added.

Rawlings said the issue caught the city off guard and led to internal confusion.

“The issue is we’ve gotta make sure we do [911] right, and we haven’t been doing it right. It’s an operational issue. We don’t have enough people staffed. We’ve had a curve ball thrown at us with new technology from T-Mobile that we didn’t catch up fast enough with. And we didn’t communicate with them well enough,” explained Rawlings.

Despite accepting blame for 911 and praising immediate changes by Dallas’ new city manager T.C. Broadnax, Rawlings suggested the issues are indicative of repeated failures by former city manager A.C. Gonzalez.

“It’s an example of some of the issues we’ve had at this city. We’ve had dog issues. We’ve had HUD issues. The great news is we have a new sheriff in town and his sense of urgency over the last few days on this tells me that things are not going to be the same as in the past,” said the mayor to WFAA. “We have not had a sense of urgency, and we’ve had leadership issues in the middle of it. T.C. has brought in four new individuals. Already you’re seeing a change at city hall and this is going to be dealt with as well.”

Separately, Rawlings revealed the city will soon start its nationwide search for a police chief and he said he hopes to have someone in place by July.

“We’re hiring the executive recruiting firm this month,” said Rawlings.

One week after its worst day yet with 911 calls, the city is reporting a major turnaround, that 92 percent of calls made Saturday were answered with 10 seconds. None were put on hold. According to Sana Syed, public information director for the city, said the industry average is 90 percent. 

Finally, the mayor said there are no more negotiations on rescuing the Dallas Police and Fire pension outside of state Rep. Dan Flynn’s bill.

“I’m very hopeful about that bill. It is not going to be heard in committee for a couple weeks.”

Click here to watch the entire interview.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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