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As thieves ransacked cars on their Kansas City street, neighbors sat on hold with 911

KCPD 911 center
The Kansas City Police Communications Center downtown.

Residents of South Hyde Park said they watched thieves comb through two stolen cars, then speed away, all while they were on hold with KCPD's 911.

The crime unfolded right before their eyes.

“I saw a car with a bunch of stuff on the ground around it,” said Aaron Aday from Kansas City’s South Hyde Park neighborhood.

Aday had just finished cleaning the kitchen after dinner when he saw two cars he didn’t recognize across the street. His concern grew when one of the men pulled a ski mask over his face and started looking around a house where nobody was home.

“They looked suspicious, so we called 911,” he said.

Neighbors started to text one another. One, Diane Constantin, went outside and started taking pictures of two young men in two stolen cars.

“I said to him that the cops are on their way,” she said.

It turns out they weren’t on their way. Nobody could get through to 911.

Aday said he and another neighbor spent eight to 10 minutes on hold waiting to tell somebody they needed help.

“This is ridiculous,” Aday recalled. “What were we going to do? Should we go out and try to scare them off?”

It’s the latest in a string of incidents showing major flaws in Kansas City’s 911 system.

On average, people calling Kansas City police with an emergency in March had to wait 33 seconds for an answer. According to NENA: The 9-1-1 Association, which the Mid-America Regional Council uses as its benchmark, the national standard calls for 90% of 911 calls to be answered within 15 seconds.

Aday’s time on hold wasn’t the worst performance last month. One caller’s hold time ran to 21:17, according to MARC data.

Aday said he was “incredulous that it would take this long.”

It frustrated the neighbors trying to look out for their neighborhood.

“There were two people trying to do the right thing and contact the police about stuff that that was happening,” said Constantin, “and neither of them could get into anybody.”

KCPD reports show the 2015 Toyota Camry and the 2019 Hyundai sped the wrong way on a one-way street on Sunday, April 7, before stopping across from Aday’s house. The cars were stolen in Kansas City.

Police recovered both cars and arrested two juveniles, a KCPD spokesperson said. Only one was charged.

“Unfortunately, 911 hold times is not just a Kansas City problem and is a difficulty being experienced nationwide,” KCPD spokesperson Officer Alayna Gonzalez said in a statement. “We have explored, and we continue to explore several different options on how we can best solve this problem.”

One proposed solution is an auto-attendant system that presents 911 callers with a menu — press one for police, two for fire and three for medical. The Kansas City Fire Department objected, saying it would send more calls to fire dispatch, who would need to hire more call takers and dispatchers.

The city has installed the auto-attendant software, but hasn’t yet activated it as the city works out the fire department issues.

Two weeks ago, KCPD installed a new feature that automatically returns calls to people who hang up to confirm if they need help or accidentally dialed 911.

Aday said nobody ever answered his 911 call.

“Once they sped off and nobody picked up, I just hung up.”

The recently installed automatic callback, he said, worked perfectly.

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