Most Charlotteans assume that if they call 911, someone will quickly answer.
In other cities, perhaps that's true. Here, if you are having a heart attack or have been stabbed multiple times, you may have to languish on hold or deal with your little problem on your own. The Charlotte City Council apparently has other more important priorities.
In August, The Charlotte Observer reported that the city had failed to properly staff its 911 call center. Because of this, people who desperately need help have been left waiting on hold.
Eric Sprouse told the Observer he was shocked to get an automated hold message after he was shot multiple times in a robbery outside his Dilworth business.
"I was losing blood," the paper quoted Sprouse as saying. "I thought I was going to pass out ... I expected someone to answer the phone when I called 911."
According to the story, the city's 911 system isn't up to the national standard of answering 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds. In Charlotte, they hope to get to 85 percent of calls within 30 seconds, but they don't always make that goal either. Some callers have languished on hold for minutes. There's no telling how many people the city has killed this way who otherwise would have survived.
You'd think that preserving human life would be a priority for the mayor, the Democratic majority that runs the Charlotte City Council and city bureaucrats. But a recent report distributed to council members showed that the goal is still to answer 85 percent of calls in 30 seconds. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Rodney Monroe tried to fix the problem by requesting funding for more telecommunicators to shorten the 911 wait times, but he got turned down.
Monroe also wanted more funding for electronic ankle bracelets the department uses to track the city's most violent criminals when they make bail, another potential lifesaver that could keep Charlotteans safe. And he wanted more police officers.
But safety is apparently a secondary priority for the council this budget cycle. The city is hoping to eventually get some grant or stimulus money to fund some of the above needs, but if it doesn't come through ... oh well.
The official story is that the city is too broke to fund this stuff because of the Great Recession and all. While the city, like other governments, certainly has seen a decline in revenues, I'd argue that city leaders are using the current economic situation as cover to avoid funding basic public services so as to use the money elsewhere.
Take basic road maintenance. City leaders are now claiming they are so broke they would have to cut funds for roads and sidewalks if they were to pay for police officers. It's a move they must teach bureaucrats in bureaucrat school. Claim you'll have to cut something that is popular in order to avoid spending money on basic life-saving services so you can blow the money elsewhere in the budget on things that make your developer friends happy.
The same Charlotte City Council members who claim to be too broke to afford basic public safety services this year were amazingly resourceful in other areas. Somehow they managed to stash $8 million in the budget for engineering studies for an Uptown streetcar.
The half-cent sales tax for mass transit was supposed to pay for transit amenities like the streetcar, which will end up costing at least $200 million. Since it won't, city bureaucrats are now finding other funding streams to pay for it.
Of course, these same people underfunded the 911 call center in the last budget cycle, too, before the Great Recession. That'd be the same budget cycle in which the city spent $42,000 -- or $1,300 a trash can -- to decorate the garbage bins along Central Avenue with mosaic tile.
Charlotte City Council member Nancy Carter explained to WCNC that this was so "people would know they were on Central Avenue" (if the sound of gunshots doesn't give it away first).
That was in addition to $56,000 for railings on the Central Avenue bridge over Briar Creek and $67,000 for an aluminum gate and sculpture outside a fire station on Providence Road.
The money comes from the 1 percent of the budget for public works that the city sets aside for public art. But if the city can't afford to meet the national standard 911 response time, then maybe it needs to rethink the money it spends on art. Either that or city leaders should be honest with the public about their true priorities.
This fall, when elections roll around, the city's politicians will all send out those cheesy mailers touting their public safety records, and bragging about how they've been champions of roadwork. In the past, some of them have even gone so far as to include photos of themselves with police officers.
While they may look nice in political mailers, those officers won't be responding to your home invasion in a timely fashion if you call 911 and get put on hold.
Trash can, anyone?