Wednesday, January 16, 2008

As if we weren't confused enough already...

One of my DC mailing lists included this note from police chief Diane Groomes:

I met with the Office of Unified Communications last Friday and it has been discussed that ALL POLICE RELATED CALLS MUST BE CALLED INTO 911…311 will now be used for the Mayors Customer Service Requests

911 – all police related matters – emergency and non emergency, need of ambulance, fires

311- all other governmental agency requests/city services – cars towed, streetlights replaced, streets repaired, animal issues, abandoned vehicles, trees trimmed, trash pick ups, etc.

Does this strike anyone else as completely idiotic? A month hardly goes by without some fiasco involving problems with 911 response. So apparently in an effort to further reduce the possibility that someone with a real emergency will be able to get through to a 911 operator, our government, in their infinite wisdom, has decided that all police matters, specifically to include non-emergency calls, should be directed to 911.

I can see it now. I'm sorry that you were on hold for for five minutes while bleeding out from a gunshot wound. But we were busy taking down the details from a citizen about the theft of a flower pot from the front of their Mount Pleasant home.

I can think of absolutely no reason that 911 should ever be used for non-emergency reasons. We have been trained since birth that 911 is the universal emergency number. There are lots of reasons to call the police when it's not an emergency. I have called 911 once in my entire life. But I've called the non-emergency police number to report a car alarm that went for days, to deal with visitor permits, to report minor crimes like my car being broken into, the list goes on. So I may be only a sample of one, but I expect I've called the police at least 10 times for my one 911 call. So can we expect 911 operators to be dealing with 10 times as much call volume, 90 percent of it which is non-emergency? Why on earth would you want to have trained emergency response staff handling thousands of routine administrative calls?

As for 311, it's purpose seems to change so often, and mean something different in so many places, that I have never actually called it. So I really don't care one way or another what that number's for. But I'm sorry. I refuse to call 911 if it's not an emergency. If I need to call the police, I'm still calling 727-1000.

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