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.