Community Post

911 Usage

I just had a chat with neighbor aj about using 911, and thought it would be good to open this up to the site.

The basic question is when an event rises to the level to warrant a 911 call. I think we’ve been conditioned over time to think that 911 is only to be called if someone is about to die.

The only other option than 911 is the SPD non-emergency number (206-625-5011), which features a huge phone tree with the choice for most citizens located 3 levels deep. Hold times can also last into minutes. That’s not a great option if you’re reporting something that is happening now.

The bottom line is that I’ve been told multiple times from people in SPD that we should call 911 any time there’s a public safety or crime issue that needs a timely police response. That includes drug activity, people creating disturbances, fights between people, etc. Of course be smart about it – if you found that your car has been broken into and only need someone to come out later in the day to take a report, use the non-emergency number. And definitely avoid 911 if there’s some widespread event like a flood or earthquake that might be keeping them busy. But otherwise 911 is your best option.

And keep in mind that SPD has a very well-tuned system for allocating resources. We don’t have enough police in Seattle and that means that sometimes they’ve got to pick and choose between calls. But they are set up to do that in a smart way, so if your call is down on the priority list you might not see an immediate response. But remember that all of these reports go into a database that can help them argue for more resources and plan for the future.

Bottom Line: use 911 for any situation happening now that you think the police should respond to.

0 thoughts on “911 Usage

  1. Your comments totally coincide with what SPD officers tell us in various neighborhood meetings. The dispatcher can prioritize the calls, but if we don’t make the call, he/she cannot even consider it. When in doubt, call and describe the situation and the need as precisely and concisely as possible. Even if they cannot respond because of greater need at another location, the situation gets into the database for planning neighborhood coverage and crime history. It’s especially important right now while the East Precinct is revamping its shift coverage.

  2. What usually happens after you make the 911 call? Do the officers come to your door and do a full report? I really don’t mind making the call but wouldn’t want to draw attention to my home and then be known as the “snitch” in the neighborhood…which could then backfire and make us a target. Excuse my paranoia, maybe it’s just my east coast upbringing ;)

  3. I’ve called the non emergency to report drug usage in a car that was permanently parked on our street. Officers responded within minutes and did not contact me to take a report. The dispatcher also did not ask for my name, only the location of the vehicle. My guess is they would like to keep people anonymous as much as possible. The dispatcher did say I could call 911 in the future to report this type of activity.

  4. Usually the dispatcher will ask if you want to be contacted by police – if not, just say no and they’ll get the job done without pulling you into it.

  5. When we first moved in, SPD officers instructed my roommate to definitely call even if we think we heard gunshots. Couple of months ago I was startled late one evening by what I can only guess to be quick gunshots very close to my street – within 2-3 mins of my call, I saw police cars in the area. I didn’t have to give any report in-person to the officers but it was reassuring to see the quick response

  6. What is said here is consistent with what I’ve heard. But, has anyone noticed the large ads in the daily papers (at least the P.I.) encouraging people to call 911 only for true emegencies and to use the ten digit number for everything else? The ad is sponsored by King County, but it doesn’t specifically say that the advice not to call 911 applies only to non-Seattle residents. This would seem to create ambiguity, or if not, at least makes you wonder why there is a difference in the attitude of Seattle Police and King County Police.