KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When you call 911 for help, you expect someone to answer your call immediately.

But police commissioners said all too often in Kansas City, 911 callers find themselves placed on hold, with some claiming they’ve even received busy signals.

There may be a renewed effort to stop that from happening.

At a meeting Tuesday, police commissioners said Kansas City has had about 20 job openings for 911 call takers and dispatchers for about as long as anyone can remember.

Police have taken steps to boost pay for emergency call takers and dispatchers. The starting salary is more than $42,600 a year, which still hasn’t been enough to eliminate a staff shortage of about 20 unfilled positions.

As a result, some claim calls for help go unanswered or they’re left waiting when seconds count.

“My youngest brother called 911. It’s on record he called 911 twice,” said Mark Tolbert, police board president. “He had an asthma attack, and before anybody could get there, he passed away.”

Police said only about 7 out of 25 applicants who get through interviews and background checks are actually hired. And some often move on to better paying careers within the police department.

The mayor said police need to be more aggressive in recruiting.

“Find the agencies that pay less for dispatchers,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “Call them all and say we will pay you more starting here. And if we need to come to this board and figure out $5,000 bonuses, then we do it.”

Commissioners also want to renew efforts with the Full Employment Council to set up classes to train job seekers to become 911 call takers, teaching skills like typing that are necessary for the job.

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