El Mirage police-call service under fire
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 17, 2007

Erin Zlomek

Sheriff's Office upsets residents

Since the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office took over dispatching for the El Mirage Police Department near the end of last year, some residents have reported dropped phone calls, long waits on hold, slow response times and a decrease in Spanish-language services for non-emergency calls.

About 30 angry residents confronted the City Council at its last meeting and demanded change.

El Mirage Elementary School employee Mary Izaguirre, one of those to speak out at the meeting, said she often calls the city's non-emergency police number when fights break out between students. Izaguirre said a student brought a weapon ont campus in December, but that the situation was not life threatening, prompting her to call the non-emergency number. She reported letting the phone ring for several minutes before a dispatcher answered.
Then, Izaguirre said, after a few seconds her call was disconnected. She said she called again, but hung up after another lengthy wait.

Several other residents gave similar accounts.

Both the Sheriff's Office and Mayor Fred Waterman acknowledged that problems with dispatching have existed since October, but were vague as to what the problems were or what steps are being taken to improve service.

Waterman said he approved a dispatching contract with the Sheriff's Office due to its advanced radio equipment that operates on the same frequency as El Mirage patrol cars. But he said he has been disappointed with the results of that agreement.

"We are paying for service that . . . we don't think is quite there yet,"
Waterman said.

Sheriff's Lt. Paul Chagolla said the office is doing its best to dispatch for the city, six other municipalities and the county with existing staff.
Chagolla said he would not be surprised if non-emergency callers from El Mirage at times found themselves waiting for a dispatcher.

"At certain times of the day we have an influx of 911 calls, which would explain a delay in answering non-emergency calls," he said.

The office records the wait times of callers from the time their call is received to when it is answered. However, it does not record calls that are never answered.

This means a caller could let the phone ring 50 times and hang up without the department keeping a record of the call, Chagolla said.

He downplayed accusations that the office lacks Spanish language services, as it employs Spanish speakers and has access to a translating service.

Chagolla said that the office could not accept responsibility for dropped calls, as it is difficult to identify which side the call was lost from.

The responses of the Sheriff's Office and city do not sit well with residents, who say they feel unsafe and find it unsettling that neither acted sooner.

El Mirage has two contracts with the Sheriff's Office for service. Waterman said the city also uses eight county supervising officers to run its Police Department and eight county officers for its patrol teams.

The city was not immediately able to provide the details of the contracts.

Waterman said the other contracts were needed to provide guidance for the Police Department.

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