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Altamonte Springs Police Department
Wednesday September 8th, 2010 :: 01:54 p.m. EDT


Should I Dial 9-1-1 or the Non-Emergency Number? See full story in your email.

As I visit with Neighborhood and Business Watch groups around the city one particular question is always brought up: Should I dial 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number when I call the police? As with most great questions there is not one definitive answer but rather the best answer is determined by the circumstances which warrant the phone call.

As a general rule 9-1-1 is reserved for in-progress emergencies which require the response of police, fire, or medical. Some examples may include: You witness a crime in progress, a home is on fire, or someone is seriously injured. Ok let’s sharpen our pencils and get ready for our first test question: Question #1 – You wake up on a Saturday morning and go outside to retrieve the newspaper. As you pass your vehicle you observe broken glass on the ground and discover overnight your vehicle has been broken into. Do you dial 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number? Answer “A” if you believe you should dial 9-1-1, “B” if you believe you should dial the non-emergency number, or “C” if you believe you should ignore the broken glass and get back into bed hoping it’s all a bad dream! Give yourself 5 points if you answered “B”. The reason you would dial the non-emergency number is because the crime and threat is over and therefore there exists no true emergency.

Some may be asking themselves what’s the big deal, does it really matter? Keep in my mind there’s less emergency phone lines than there are non-emergency lines. 9-1-1 lines take precedent over all other phone lines and therefore should be reserved for true emergencies. And here’s another point if you dial 9-1-1 to report a non-emergency call the entire process will be delayed as you will be requested to call back on a non-emergency line.

On a side note in the last scenario you should report the crime immediately and not contaminate the crime scene which would potentially destroy valuable evidence such as a suspect’s fingerprints. What’s that? You say nothing of great value was taken therefore what’s the point of calling the police? Police officers cannot be everywhere at one time; therefore officers rely on reported crimes to develop crime trends which aid them in depicting which neighborhoods and businesses need the most patrols. By not reporting a crime your area may go under the radar and give an appearance of low activity which may not be an accurate reflection.

Question #2 - You arrive home from work and pull into the driveway when you notice your front door has been pried open. For 5 points do you call 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number? Answer “A” if you believe you should dial 9-1-1, “B” if you believe you should dial the non-emergency number, or “C” if you believe you should call a family member! Congratulations if you answered “A” call 9-1-1. This was a tricky question as you did not know for sure if there was a crime in progress however it’s always best to error on the side of caution. Unfortunately too many times we experience victims choosing answer “C” and notifying family members before calling the police. Keep in mind the chances of catching a criminal dramatically are reduced as each second ticks away that the police are unaware of the crime. Additionally it should noted that the homeowner should wait safely at a neighbor’s residence or down the street until the police arrive and never go inside a home which show signs of a break-in.

Final question – While preparing to close your business for the evening you notice a group of teenagers loitering in the parking lot near your vehicle. After watching them for several minutes they have not committed a crime but you do not feel comfortable walking out to your car alone. For 5 points do you call 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number? Answer “A” if you believe you should dial 9-1-1, “B” if you believe you should dial the non-emergency number, or “C” if you believe you should spend the night at the business. The correct answer is “B”, call the non-emergency number. From the details provided there is no immediate alarm about the teenagers’ behavior that would justify tying up a 9-1-1 line or sending a police car lights and siren. However, the business owner has every right and reason to exercise caution and not walk out to his/her vehicle alone. The proper decision in this scenario would be to utilize the non-emergency number and request an officer to meet you at the business to stand-by while you lock up and walk to your vehicle.

So how did you score on the test? If you scored 15 points sign yourself up as a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator, if you scored 10 points
sign up as a Block Captain, if you scored 5 or less points make sure you attend every crime watch meeting scheduled. To schedule a Neighborhood or Business Watch meeting call our Community Oriented Police Services Section at 407-571-8463.

One last note - dialing 9-1-1 from a cell phone does not guarantee the call will be routed to the agency that has proper jurisdiction. Never dial 9-1-1 and hang up assuming the cavalry is on the way. 9-1-1 hang ups are investigated with a non-emergency response. 9-1-1 can tell us your name, your address, your phone number but it does not tell us the most important thing - THE NATURE OF YOUR EMERGENCY.

Have a great day – stay safe!

Altamonte Springs Police Department
175 Newburyport Ave
Altamonte Springs, FL 32701

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 407-339-2441

Lt Darin Farber
COPS Section

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