Salt Lake City will review how dispatch center handles homeless complaints

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Sanchez, center, asks Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown about Operation Rio Grande during the Liberty Wells Community Council meeting at the Tracy Aviary education room in Salt Lake City Wednesday November 8, 2017.

Salt Lake City officials will review how dispatchers have handled nonemergency complaints about homeless people after a community group this week told the mayor and the police chief that residents’ calls weren’t getting action.

The review will include listening to archived recordings of actual calls to see whether dispatchers followed procedure. Police and dispatch supervisors also will review what response callers sought and what was done to answer or resolve the complaint, the director of the city dispatch center said Thursday.

“If a dispatcher said, ‘Sorry there’s nothing we can do for you,’ that would be contrary to our policy,” dispatch Director Scott Freitag said. “It’s not the practice to do nothing or to tell [callers] that we’re not going to do anything. If we find that has happened, then that’s something we have to deal with with the employee or employees.”

At a community forum Wednesday, Liberty Wells residents told Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown that dispatchers were declining to take reports about homeless people congregating in the neighborhood. Biskupski told the group she would investigate.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown answer questions from Salt Lake City residents during the Liberty Wells Community Council meeting at the Tracy Aviary education room in Salt Lake City Wednesday November 8, 2017. Many of the questions were centered around Operation Rio Grande and the effects it is having on this area of the city.

Freitag discussed the matter with the mayor and the police chief Thursday. He said officials will review how specific calls from Liberty Wells residents were handled, including whether and how police responded.

Freitag said officials hope to have data from their review next week and will look at possible improvements, such as instituting a different routine for following up with residents on which actions are taken in response to complaints.

The center employs 82 dispatchers who work shifts in groups ranging from 13 to 22, depending on time and day, Freitag said. It handles about 700,000 emergency and nonemergency calls a year, an average of about 1,900 per day.

Mayoral spokesman Matt Rojas said the city already had plans in the works to hire several more nonemergency dispatchers and would try to expedite those hires.

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