KCBD Investigates: LPD police chief addresses 30,000 abandoned 911 calls

Published: Jul. 11, 2023 at 11:02 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2023 at 2:06 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - When dialing 911, people expect to hear a dispatcher on the other end of the line.

In 2022, the Lubbock Police Department received roughly 183,000 911 calls. However, tens of thousands of those emergency calls were missed. Despite this data, dispatch staffing was recently reduced, raising the question of whether this will affect officer and community safety.

“My fingers and my hands don’t work very well anymore, so, I can’t do a lot of things with my hands,” Cynthia Arguello, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, said. “I fall more, but once I fall, the little medical alert detects it, but I always have my phone with me.”

Muscular dystrophy is an uphill battle that Arguello deals with every day. She stated her day-to-day symptoms vary, bringing a new sense of anxiety with them. Calling 911 is a common occurrence in her home.

“That’s when the panic comes,” Arguello said. “You don’t understand until you get the physicians and that’s why 911 is very important.”

While dialing 911 is stressful enough, what if no one picked up? That was the reality 30,017 times last year in the City of Lubbock.

“It looks like 30,000 calls were abandoned,” Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell said. “When a call is abandoned, this is the terminology used by the Lubbock Emergency Communications District, and it means the call wasn’t picked up by a dispatcher on the first call.”

Those missed calls were occurring with nine dispatchers on each shift. In early May of this year, Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell lowered that staffing to seven.

“I am responsible for managing the entire police department and the dispatch unit. When we look at how the dispatch unit is run, cutting it from nine to seven based on the deployment makes no difference in regard to how the system would work,” said Mitchell.

The decision leaves seven dispatchers to take all 911 calls within the City of Lubbock. Mitchell stated the cuts came after the unit has been battled by staffing and budget issues.

“Last year, we spent over $650,000 in overtime, and by April of this year, we had spent over $360,000 in overtime. We had budgeted just under $400,000, in that year so it is my responsibility to look at what we can do to address all facets of that unit,” said Mitchell.

These issues were brought to light in May by Maggie Vanhoose, a dispatcher who took her concerns to the Lubbock Professional Police Association. In her grievance, she stated, “the staff cuts would result in unacceptable working conditions for employees and would negatively affect the ability to serve officers and the citizens of Lubbock, creating risk to officer safety and the safety of the public”.

Vanhoose’s attorney, Randall Moore, stated she received disciplinary action from Chief Mitchell after she claimed the staff cuts would cause public and officer safety issues.

“Not only did he not listen to her, but he attempted to shut her up and squash her by disciplining her and labeling her as unethical and subversive and insubordinate and spreading misinformation,” Moore said.

Moore stated Vanhoose’s grievance and reprimand is still under review by the City. Moore also said Vanhoose put her job on the line to bring this issue to light.

“She has spoken out about something that concerns everybody in the Lubbock area, and been punished for it, and that’s just wrong. We are looking to see that that is righted, and whatever it takes to make it right, that’s what we are going to do,” said Moore.

During KCBD’S interview with Chief Mitchell, we asked if 30 thousand missed 911 calls was an acceptable number for the residents of Lubbock.

“Based on how the system is designed, it is a very acceptable scenario, and it is comparable to any other city throughout the United States,” said Mitchell.

The KCBD investigative team obtained 911 call logs from the Irving Police Department, a department that LPD said is comparable in size to Lubbock. In 2022, Irving PD abandoned 13,999 911 calls and called back 13,880.

In contrast, the Lubbock Police Department abandoned 30,017 911 calls, calling back 26,448.

Chief Mitchell has reportedly approved adding one more dispatcher to each shift, making the minimum staffing eight instead of seven. In a statement released by Mayor Tray Payne, Payne stated that last year the City allocated an additional $7.4 million dollars to this year’s police budget. He also said, as Mayor, he expects those funds to be used effectively, stating the current dispatch issues should be improving not getting worse.

Several members of the Lubbock City Council have since released statements in response to the investigation.

Dr. Jennifer Wilson, Council Member for District 5, also provided a statement on Friday:

“Over the last year the mayor, myself and the other members of city council have made public safety a top priority. This council has ensured that the Lubbock Police Department has the financial resources necessary to provide services that Lubbock citizens expect and deserve. It is my expectation as a council member and citizen that the Police Chief utilize those resources effectively to make sure every 911 call is answered in a timely manner. It is unacceptable that any citizen’s call for emergency services goes unanswered. As your councilwoman I am working with the city manager to ensure these issues are resolved immediately.”

Steve Massengale, Councilman for District 4, released a statement Friday:

“I take the concerns about 911 dispatch very seriously. Public Safety is the City Council’s top priority and will remain so. I think citizens need to know that our 911 system in Lubbock works and if help is needed, it will be dispatched appropriately. With that said, we can, and will, do better. We will continue to work to ensure the men and women of the Lubbock Police Department have the tools and staffing necessary to protect and serve our citizens. This includes the Communications Center. 911 calls need to be answered quickly, and if needed, callbacks made immediately. I am working with the City Manager to ensure we do better and that questions raised are looked into. Further, if corrections need to be made, they will happen.

Please know that I appreciate everyone in Lubbock’s 911 Dispatch and at the Lubbock Police Department. I truly believe that we can and will continue to improve.”

Christy Martinez-Garcia, Councilwoman for District 1, provided a statement Thursday afternoon:

“I watched with great interest reports by the local media on the Lubbock Police Department’s (LPD) capacity to properly respond to 9-1-1 emergency calls.

The next morning, I navigated through a radio interview briefly responding to a question about the handling of this issue – emphasizing the high regard Lubbock citizens and our council have for public safety.

I also watched an online video statement by LPD Chief Mitchell and followed up with our City Manager, Jarrett Atkinson.

To objectively understand the situation, I read the grievance from the dispatcher who reported the concern. I also requested a 26-minute interview between reporter Natalie Faulkenberry and Chief Mitchell recorded by our LPD Public Information Office (PIO).

Having had a chance to weigh things out on my own, I have responded to questions and comments from the public.

Simply put - I’m concerned that the safety of our constituents was/continues to be compromised. We must assure our citizens that we will follow through in taking the necessary and corrective actions they expect.

We should never take for granted the trust of our constituents.

Therefore, I’m in agreement with a statement made by Mayor Tray Payne, “that resources made available to our police department be effectively used.”

And, this issue must be further reviewed, followed by appropriate action because Lubbock taxpayers expect their 911 calls to be answered.

Public safety is necessary and something we, Lubbock citizens, expect.”

The Lubbock Professional Police Association also provided a statement:

“The LPPA (Lubbock Professional Police Association) was made aware of major issues involving the mandatory staffing reductions in LPD dispatch. LPPA was approached by LPD dispatch employees who voiced concerns and worries that the public and officers’ safety were going to be severely impacted while having to further decrease their already understaffed positions.

The LPPA and its members fully support our officers, civilian staff, and dispatchers as they play a vital role in the safety of the Lubbock Community and our officers. The mayor and city council have taken an active role in public safety and we have full confidence they will ensure that the necessary corrective actions will be taken.

We value the support of not only our elected officials but also all members of the community we serve.”

The Lubbock Professional Firefighter’s Association released a statement on July 21:

The Lubbock Professional Firefighter’s Association recently learned of major inadequacies in LPD’s 911 dispatch system. The safety of our city’s residents and the effectiveness of our emergency response services rely heavily on a well-functioning and fully staffed dispatch system. However, we have learned of countless instances of unanswered 911 calls. This not only jeopardizes the safety of our first responders, but also compromises our ability to provide timely and life-saving assistance to those in need. These communication breakdowns have the potential to put lives at risk.

Our Association is gravely concerned about these issues. We remain committed to providing excellent service to our citizens, while being good stewards of taxpayer resources. That is why we urge our city leadership to address these critical public safety problems immediately, before our citizens or our public servants face irreparable harm. We must prioritize the safety of our community by promptly and diligently addressing the problems within the 911 dispatch system.