Local News


CONTACT 13: Sheriff weighs in on 911 problems

Posted at 10:45 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-15 07:44:13-04

Whether it's a medical emergency, a car crash or a crime in progress, 911 is supposed to be there when Las Vegas is in trouble.

So why do people keep getting a recording when reaching out for a lifeline? 

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asks the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's top cop why help is sometimes on hold.

"I look up and I saw this car coming at me and he was going a lot faster than I was," Joan Green said.

Green watched helplessly as the car went speeding, weaving and out of control on Joe W. Brown Drive behind the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"And he spun all the way up and he ended facing that wall right over there," she said.

When the driver didn't get out of the car, Green called 911.

"And I get a recording that tells me to just hold on! " she said.

This is what Joan heard: "You have reached 911 emergency. Please do not hang up. Your call will be answered in the order received."

It only took a few seconds for that 911 call to go from the scene of the accident across town to LVMPD's call center. 

But it took a lot longer than that for a live person to answer the phone.

"It should be immediate. Because what if it was me? What if I had needed 911?" she said.

Green believes it is dangerous.

"People could die!" she said. "What are they gonna do when somebody dies?"

That's the question Debbie asks herself every day. What if the call had gone through and they got there 5 minutes earlier as her husband was dying?

"Maybe he would still be here..." she said. "I don't know. I wish he was."

As Contact 13 first reported in February, Debbie and multiple neighbors sat on hold on Dec. 17 as her husband's life slipped away.

"I thought no! That can't be right! And I kept yelling, 'Please help me! Please answer! Please help me!' "

We took our reports and our viewers' concerns to Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

"It's unfortunate that that did take place," said Lombardo. "But in reality, some people are going to be put on hold."

Most are completely taken aback by the recording when they call 911.

"Yeah, I'm sure they are, but that's the way it is set up and that's the system we work in, and it's not a bad system," Lombardo said. "It's a good system."

The national standard for 911 is to answer 90 percent of all calls in less than ten seconds.

Lombardo acknowledged, "In review of the documents you provided me and my own review of my own organization, we were not meeting that standard for a period of time."

That period of time, he says, included the December day when Debbie's husband died. 

Green's 911 call was in March. It took a minute and 20 seconds for a live person to come on the line.

"And that's a legitimate concern, but did we already receive that call?" Lombardo said.

Nope. LVMPD's own research confirms Green's was the first of just two calls on that DUI crash. 

It was 9:27 a.m. on a Sunday.

Most of the calls are not a big event or a mass number of people affected. These are individual families.

"But you're still talking about big numbers of calls coming in on a regular basis," Lombardo said.

The LVMPD call center receives more than 8,000 calls a day. About 3,000 are 911 calls.

"We're often looking at potential life and death situations," Spears said. "And as you know, seconds count."

"And I don't want to minimize that. Seconds do count," Lombardo said. "My message is we're doing everything within our ability to get better."

Lombardo said the problems with help on hold aren't limited to 911. 

He told us LVMPD has been having technical difficulties with its non-emergency 311 system. Plus, they had to move some staff to help answer emergency calls.  

Money plays a role in everything, and the 911 system is apparently no exception.

"Usually, they're calling 911 because of an emergency associated with it so no, it's not acceptable," Lombardo said of calls being put on hold.  "But I have to work within the restraints that I'm given and the ability to get people properly trained and put on the floor. And that requires human capital and money."

Watch the full interview with Lombardo in the video below.

And be sure to share your 911 experiences with us on Darcy's Facebook page.