Denver 911: City not meeting response goals

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DENVER -- When Molly Finucan saw a woman pushed out of a moving car in front of her on South Quebec Street near East Alameda Avenue, she immediately called 911.

The 25-year-old never expected to be put on hold May 7 by Denver's 911 system.

Molly Finucan

Molly Finucan

"This was my first time calling 911 and I thought when you called 911, someone immediately answers," Finucan said.

Instead, she heard a recording: "This is Denver 911, do not hang up. Stay on the line for the next available agent."

While  Finucan was on hold, 27-year-old Erica Frances jumped into the back seat of the car being driven by Molly's boyfriend, Sam Clark.

Frances told the FOX31 Problem Solvers she had been pushed out of her car by her husband, Nyenow Pyne, during a domestic dispute.

When a 911 dispatcher answered 52 seconds after Finucan first called, Frances can be heard screaming in the background about her kids.

But the Denver dispatcher didn't immediately send police because Finucan, Clark and Frances were just arriving at Frances' mother's house, which barely sits in Arapahoe County instead of Denver.

At the same time, the threesome feared they were being followed by Frances' husband.

"At this point, we are terrified. We don't know if this guy has a weapon. Lady screaming, saying kids in car. There are four kids in her husband's car under the age of 10," Finucan said.

Finucan, Clark and Frances drove around looking for a police officer while talking to dispatchers about which agency was sending officers.

"There is no reason why it should take 18 minutes to get a cop on the scene," a frustrated Finucan said.

Erica Frances

Erica Frances

"I cried and was screaming, what's going on. You know, why is this taking so long? They [were] like because it's not Arapahoe's case.  We (911 dispatch) have to get Denver on the line," remembered an incredulous Frances.

On 911 recordings, an Arapahoe County dispatcher put Finucan on hold when she tries to call back to Denver's 911 operator.

Clark can be heard asking the Arapahoe dispatcher, "Do you guys know when an officer will arrive?"

Athena Butler

Athena Butler

"The reality, unfortunately nowadays is that when we get spikes in calls you may be on hold," said Athena Butler, the executive director of Denver's 911 system.

Butler adds resources were strained on this particular day and many days by Denver's growing population.

"Right behind this call there was a missing child call with circumstances," Butler said.

A records request revealed in 12 months from June of 2016 to May 2017, Denver answered 911 calls within 16 seconds 84 percent of the time.

But the city's goal is to do that 95 percent of the time. Denver answers 911 calls within 40 seconds 92 percent of the time, but the city's goal is 99 percent.

Finucan waited 52 seconds to speak with a dispatcher when she felt every second counted.

"Now if I have to call 911, I'm absolutely terrified. A lot can happen in that short amount of time," Finuncan said.

"Our long-term goal is obviously to fix that. We have been working incrementally every year to bring down the amount of time that people are on hold, but there's no guarantee," Butler said.

Denver has been budgeted for 78 emergency call takers but is adding 12 more this month.

Butler said Denver 911 has outgrown its location in Congress Park. The city plans to move 911 operations into a larger location by the end of 2018 and wants to increase the number of 911 operators to 125.

Frances said it can't happen soon enough.

"I felt like I waited way too long," she said. "I felt like it was never going to end like I wasn't going to get help."

Nyenow Pyne

Nyenow Pyne

Police arrested Frances' husband, Nyenow Pyne for domestic assault and wrongs to minors.

But he didn't show up for his misdemeanor trial in late June so there's a bench warrant out for his arrest.

As for Denver 911, the city paid out $1.3 million in overtime for the past 12 months to maintain staffing levels.

Butler said it could take the city three years to meet its 911 time response goals.

But Denver said it's already making improvements in 2017, answering 911 calls within 16 seconds 90 percent of the time and within 40 seconds 95 percent of the time since Jan. 1.