Wait Times for 911 Calls in Portland ‘Horrible’ Amid Staff Shortages, Efforts to Defund Police

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
September 13, 2021 Updated: September 13, 2021

Residents of Portland, Oregon, who call 911 to report emergencies are facing a “dramatic increase” in hold times, with officials saying that the system has become “unmanageable” and is “broken.”

According to The Oregonian, people dialing 911 are often left waiting more than two minutes for their call to be answered, far longer than the national standard of 15 to 20 seconds.

People calling 911 to report a Sept. 4 shootout at a Pearl District restaurant and other emergencies in the following half-hour waited an average of more than 7.5 minutes before a dispatcher answered, The Oregonian reported, adding that this was just “the latest example of serious problems plaguing the city’s emergency dispatch system.”

Portland has dealt with unrest amid continuous riots that first broke out in the spring of 2020. Some of the people who have committed crimes are members of the far-left, anarcho-communist Antifa network. Others have identified as Black Lives Matter activists.

Bob Cozzie, director of Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications, said his bureau answers about a million 911 calls a year, of which about 550,000 are emergency calls and 450,000 are of a non-emergency nature.

Speaking of the dramatic increase in hold times, Cozzie called the situation “horrible.”

“There’s no other way to state it.” He noted that it’s time for Oregon to start looking at other options and solutions to the increasing delays, such as rerouting non-emergency calls.

Cozzie said that the agency’s own statistics show an average hold time of a minute. But, it also shows a sharp rise in the number of 911 calls on hold for two minutes or longer starting in late spring and summer.

As per The Oregonian, 574 of the 911 calls in the city had to wait on hold for more than five minutes in July. This number is more than double that of May, when 221 calls waited that long, and is drastically more than in March, when only eight 911 calls took more than five minutes to answer.

portland riot
Police officers walk past a fire started by a Molotov cocktail that a rioter hurled at them, in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 23, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Compared to 2020, Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications has experienced a 20 to 45 percent increase in 911 calls, with residents making a total of 63,573 calls to 911 in July, 20 percent more than in July 2020. Calls to 911 in July 2020 represented only a 2 percent increase over July 2019.

Cozzie cited a number of reasons for the long wait times, such as a significant increase in the volume of 911 and non-emergency calls that his department receives, as well as less available staff.

He noted that more than a dozen employees have “retired, taken leaves of absence, been promoted or resigned over the past six months,” contributing to staff shortages and thus longer wait times.

Current staff is still in training on new medical and fire triage protocols put in place in an effort to cut down on the number of fire trucks sent to low-level medical calls, he said.

“We’re at a tipping point now. It’s become unmanageable,” he said. “The system is broken.”

The increase in both the number of 911 calls and the longer hold times comes amid a rising number of homicides in Oregon.

Epoch Times Photo
People clash during rival rallies in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 22, 2021. (David Ryder/Reuters)

According to the Portland Police Bureau, between July 2020 and July 2021, 98 homicides were reported to the bureau. During the year-earlier period, from July 2019 to July 2020, just 23 homicide offenses were reported.

Law enforcement officials have been resigning en masse from their posts amid continued calls to defund the police and other law enforcement agencies. In June, the entire Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team left their voluntary positions after an officer was indicted on an assault charge.

The team, which is responsible for providing public safety at crowd events when there is a threat of harm to the community, included about 50 officers, all of whom resigned on June 16, but said they would continue with their regular assignments.

The mass resignation came just one day after Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced his team had indicted one member, Officer Corey Budworth, on one count of fourth-degree assault for physically injuring someone during an Aug. 18, 2020, protest.

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.