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Larry Stirling
Larry Stirling is a former State Senator and Retired Superior Court Judge

Legislature To You: Drop Dead!
The legislature ignores 9-1-1
[Larry Stirling] 10/11/03

The 9-1-1 emergency system has been around since 1981. I know because I was the one who sponsored the notion during the 1977 San Diego City Council races. I was backed up by: Fred Schnaubelt, Bill Mitchell, Bill Lowery, Tom Gade and eventually the rest of the City Council.

The San Diego region was the first major metropolitan area in the nation to fully implement the system.

The notion came about because one night in the early 1970s, my wife and I had stopped at the"Y" intersection, in front of the Old Bonita Store in South Bay.

The eastbound light turned green and the car in front of us headed into the intersection, only to be broadsided at full speed by a car coming from the north. It was awful.

Located nearby was a pay telephone. I dropped in my dime and dialed "O" for operator. When she came on the line I told her about the awful thing that had happened. She asked me where I was. I gave her the address from the front of the pay phone. But what she really needed to know was in whose jurisdiction I was located. I was clueless so help was delayed.

The next day I called my college roommate, Walt Slater. His dad, Robert, was an executive with AT&T.

I contacted him and told him what happened and asked what we could do about it. He told me that they were experimenting with a concept known at 9-1-1 down in Florida, but they had real problems because of a patent dispute. He added that they wanted to install 9-1-1 because they got sued about this issue on a regular basis.

Eventually the legal problems were solved and the phone company went about seeking authorizing legislation that added a small surcharge to our phone bills dedicated to supporting the phone companies' operation of the system.

As a City Council member, I pushed for the automation of the dispatch system and the installation of the first 9-1-1.

I have paid attention to it ever since, constantly urging the council to keep the system upgraded and fully staffed.

What is more important to public health and safety than the notion that when you call for help someone answers the phone?

When the system was first installed, we dropped the average "rings" from about 100 (!) down to none.

However, as the years have gone on, the average ring time has been rising. Any delay is an eternity when someone is breaking down your door or beating up your mother.

Of the more than a quarter of a million calls a year received by the San Diego Police Department dispatch center, more than 30,000 callers simply give up.

To counter this trend, I recommended to every member of the Legislature that they modify the 9-1-1 law to allow moneys from the surplus to flow to the local agencies to finance not only the equipment but also help hire and pay for more emergency operators. No tax increase was needed.

And what did the Legislature do? They transferred nearly $60 million out of the fund and into the bottomless pit of the state's general fund. This is not only a breach of trust; this is telling of the people of California to literally "drop dead!"

The message is clear: Their political safety maintained via pork barrel projects is more important than your physical safety.

Not only that, but in the face of a rising population, state miscreants have cut, slashed and reduced the number of authorized 9-1-1 positions from 35 to 17.

How in-your-face contemptuous can your legislator be?

I urge every reader to call their legislator now to restore the 9-1-1 funds that we pay for this very purpose, and authorize the surplus funds to flow to the operators so that we don't get busy signals. And the Legislature should pay back every single nickel they stole from this trust fund, with interest.

Too bad they cannot be sued for gross negligence in this regard.

copyright 2003 Larry Stirling


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