Now 911 dispatchers have a productivity policy (updated)

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Here are two sentences from Mayor White’s most recent State of the City speech:

As a community we must build consensus to put emergency services on a sound, sustainable financial basis.

Public safety will come first in our City’s budget, as it did last year.

So, how does the city “put emergency services on a sound, sustainable financial basis”? Maybe this is one way:

When a person calls 911 and needs the police, you’re transferred to an HPD call taker like 16-year veteran Latrella Thomas.

She says a new policy at HEC has made gathering information for police more difficult.

11 news obtained a document which states call takers must process each call in approximately 80 seconds.

Anything over 90 seconds needs improvement say HEC officials, and if the call takes more than 121 seconds, that’s unacceptable.

You know, there comes a point when one wonders if any city official has an ounce of common sense. If an HEC dispatcher talks to someone in an emergency situation for 41 seconds too long, that’s considered unacceptable?

Ms. Thomas, quoted in the KHOU-11 story, cites one example where she chose not to follow the policy:

She remembers telling a young victim of a home invasion to immediately go upstairs.

“I told her to go in the bathroom and lock the door,” says Thomas. “We had to stay on the line with them which HEC wanted us to get off, but I didn’t get off because that lady’s life was in jeopardy.”

Thank goodness!

But hang on, because this next part is going to make you scream:

Joe Laud is with HEC. He says the new rules were put in place to increase productivity.

“Well, it’s part of the mayor’s new plan for their evaluation, their performance and that is part of their requirements that they will have to follow,” says Laud. “But it follows the Department of Justice, their guidelines for all public safety call taking procedures.”

Is there some problem with dispatchers goofing off? If so, then where’s management? Working the floor or hiding in an office? Or is this because HEC is short of help? Maybe the city should address the issues that keep HEC perpetually understaffed, instead of standing over the staff it does have with a stopwatch. I’d bet — with everything we know about HEC — that it’s more about staffing problems.

What an interesting look into the mindset of city officials: the city moves forward with planning a “centerpiece park,” while implementing a policy that limits the amount of time a 911 call-taker can be on the phone.

RELATED: HPD’s “productivity policy” begins (blogHOUSTON), Can the Houston Emergency Center be fixed? (blogHOUSTON)

UPDATE: Laurence Simon offers an apology for the call center’s bizarre new policy.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.