We’ve been taught ever since childhood to dial 911 when we encounter a problem concerning the law, health, or safety. As natural as this may feel to us in a time of need, there is actually protocol into whether or not to call 911 vs. the general police/safety numbers.
Now of course, incidents that put someone’s life, safety, health, or property in immediate danger without hesitation require a 911 call.
I’m speaking of those occurrences that may not be time sensitive, or requiring emergency services. Events that happened longer than 15 minutes prior, (that do not involve an injury and suspects are not present at the scene) do not require an immediate 911 dial. Instead, contact the local authorities via their general phone number. If you don’t know your local non-emergency line, dial 411 to be connected or click on the link below. If you live in Chicago, dial 311 for non-emergency events.
Delores Temes, Deputy Director at the Addison Police Department says "We like to separate them because we answer 911 calls as a priority over non-emergency lines and most calls are of a non-emergency nature. Generally speaking, if someone is the victim of a crime or has witnessed a crime that has just occurred, 911 without a doubt. If someone is experiencing a medical issue - 911. A vehicle accident is 911 worthy. Suspicious people or activities - 911."
When 911 is called and officers are dispatched for a non-emergency visit, the cost ultimately comes back onto the community in the form of tax dollars – property and income. With money issues set aside, it also poses a risk to the community by tying up emergency lines. This puts others in danger of not getting through to dispatchers in a real emergency situation.
See if you pass the ‘When to Call 911’ test. Which of these scenarios would best be resolved with 911?
a) Your car was broken into overnight, with the stereo and other personal items missing.
b) You accidently locked your keys in the car, with no one inside.
c) You just witnessed a traffic accident, and you notice the driver is injured.
d) The neighbors above you are cranking their stereo up at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night.
If you guessed C, you are correct. The only time you wouldn’t necessarily dial 911 was if the accident didn’t pose a danger to the rest of traffic, and there was no bodily injury to any of the passengers. The other choices could be handled by dialing the general police office number.
Temes says "Non-emergency numbers should be used for general questions, parking permissions, requests to speak with an officer, barking dog complaints, parking problems, lost or found property or animals, or to report a delayed incident. For example: "I went to my car this morning and someone broke into it". Something that does not need an immediate response and there is no offender information."
Say that in fact, option C had just occurred. When dialing 911, you may not know what to
expect. Here’s the low down on the typical questions you should be prepared to answer once the dispatcher answers your call: the location of your emergency, the number in which you are calling from, and other details of the emergency (such as who committed the crime, description of the event, any known injuries, symptoms of an ill patron, etc.)
Can’t decide whether your situation renders a 911 call? "If a citizen is not sure, they can call 911 and we will assist them", say Temes. But by being aware of different situations where there is a better alternative than calling 911 will not only save you money and potentially trouble, but also keep the rest of the community safe.