OAKLAND -- Police unveiled a newly remodeled dispatch center Monday that should reduce radio static and call failures but won't enable Oakland to join nearly every other Bay Area city in directly accepting 911 calls made from cell phones.
The upgrades include a new carpet designed to limit static that has interfered with radio signals, a 24-foot long video wall with live mapping feeds, and ergonomic work stations with built-in air conditioning units.
Much of the new equipment replaces items that frequently broke down, city officials said.
The $750,000 project comes as politicians in an election year are paying more attention to the dispatch center, which for over a decade has been understaffed and unable to adequately handle Oakland's high call volume.
Average hold times for 911 calls topped 15 seconds last year, well behind the state's 10-second goal, police records show. Emergency calls made from cell phones take longer typically because they must be rerouted through the California Highway Patrol.
The upgrades won't improve response times, but they should make it easier for dispatchers to do their jobs. Their new work stations include up to five monitors so that dispatchers can keep tabs on pending calls, mapping systems, radio communications and the status of officers responding to crimes.
The city's gunshot detection system also will appear on many dispatch screens. Previously, when a shot was fired, the incident only registered on a single laptop computer inside the center.
"We're really trying to maximize technology across the board so we have as much information as possible when we respond to crimes," Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa said before police led a tour of facility. "This is a really big component of that."
The work station improvements are designed to keep dispatchers on the job. The city has lost dispatchers to disability leave for repetitive stress injuries and to other agencies that pay better.
Oakland's dispatchers currently must deal with about 612,000 annual calls for service with only two-thirds the staffing from 15 years ago. The current city budget authorizes 70 dispatcher jobs, down from 92 in 1999. The city likely will need more than 100 dispatchers if it is to start accepting the 348,000 911 calls made from cell phones. However, the facility is too small to house the number of dispatchers needed to handle a huge call volume increase.
Oakland soon will study whether to expand the facility or build a new one. Officials said the upgrades on display Friday could last longer than the dispatch center itself.
"These systems and work stations are going to come with us no matter where we are," Figueroa said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.