‘It’s gonna take time’: STL safety director says 911 call center will improve; addresses dispatch concerns

Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 10:11 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - St. Louis city is not shying away from the fact that they need more dispatchers to pick up the phone when there is an emergency.

“This problem didn’t happen overnight. It took a little while for us to get here and it’s going to take us a little while to dig ourselves out of it,” said Public Safety Director, Charles Coyle.

More questions regarding long hold times and delayed responses continue.

First Alert 4 spoke to a local family who blames the city’s broken 911 system for their loved one’s loss of life.

Lyft driver, Crystal McAlpin, was killed in a five-car crash on Broadway and Humboldt on September 22. The driver hit Crystal’s Honda CRV as she was sitting at a red light.

“People was calling and kept being placed on hold saying the operator would be available soon,” her aunt says. “I was informed that it took them 25 minutes to pickup the call.”

However, the Public Safety Department says there was no delay in their response. According to their incident timeline, the first call came in at 3:48pm with the first medic unit arriving 17 minutes later at 4:05pm.

“We’ve had people say that I was on hold for 10-12 minutes when they were literally on hold for 9 seconds and they hung up because they panicked,” says Coyle.

Only three EMS dispatchers were working the Friday Crystal McAlpin died.

“Once we increase that number than we can fix the problem of hold times by having someone answering that phone sooner,” Coyle says.

Coyle admits to First 4 that despite hiring 30 plus new dispatchers, there aren’t any call takers who are cross trained for EMS and police.

“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Coyle says. “We won’t start cross training police dispatchers with EMS dispatchers until we are 75% at full capacity.”

The department’s three phase plan is still underway which includes hiring, multi-agency call training and a new $40 million public safety center where all dispatchers will work in the same building.

“It’s gonna take time for us to train the people that we have now gotten on the job,” says Coyle. “Be patient. We’re working on it. It’s important to us. We hear you.”

A Lyft spokesperson released a statement following Crystal McAlpin’s passing:

“Our hearts are with Ms. McAlpin’s loved ones during this difficult time. We have reached out to her family to offer our support and stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Crystal, it can be accessed here.