Q: I am unsure of what constitutes an emergency and a non-emergency situation, and don’t want to misuse the emergency operators. What constitutes misuse of the 911 system?

A: The Santa Monica Police and Fire dispatch centers receive many non-priority calls on our emergency lines. Since we treat all 911 calls as high priority emergencies until we know otherwise, sometimes we have to put a high priority call on hold to answer a lower priority call. In heavy call volume situations people reporting true emergencies may not have their call answered promptly due to non-emergency callers improperly using 911.

Improper use of the 911 system is when someone calls 911 for a situation that is not an immediate threat to human life or property. Appropriate 911 calls are those where there is immediate danger to life or property, such as any property crime in progress (such as a car that is being broken into now) or a fire or medical emergency. Other emergencies you should use 911 for include things such as in progress traffic crimes (DUI or road rage incidents), assaults in progress, or immediate traffic hazards (a large piece of scrap metal in the roadway). Non-emergency calls, such as a car that was broken into sometime in the past three hours or a mailbox that was smashed sometime overnight are more appropriately reported to the police on the non-emergency line, (310) 458-8491. Our non-emergency line is answered by the same professionals who handle the 911 calls and is staffed 24 hours a day, but its use allows operators to prioritize which ringing phone to answer first and leave the 911 lines open for people who have immediate emergencies.

Often people call 911 because they don’t realize there is a better place to call. For instance, we receive many calls about power outages. Emergency operators may have no information regarding the cause or duration of a power outage. Sometimes people don’t realize the non-emergency number is 24 hours, so they call 911 for their neighbors’ loud parties, barking dogs, and abandoned autos. We even get 911 calls of cats stuck in trees. People occasionally call 911 looking for other phone numbers, such as police agencies elsewhere in the state, or local hospital numbers to check on someone who already is being treated. Using 411 is actually faster to find those numbers, and most of them are listed in the phone book.

With all that said, please do not hesitate to call 911 for an emergency! The Santa Monica Police and Fire Departments want to respond to help anyone in need in the fastest possible way. Calling 911 for a true emergency will allow us to get to the person in need quickly.

Q: What’s the purpose of filing a police report if something small is stolen? Is it really worth it to waste the police’s time?

A: If you are the victim of any crime we strongly encourage you to report it to the police department. The citizens of Santa Monica are the police department’s best observers. Citizen reports many times can provide a critical piece of information needed for solving a case. Regarding theft specifically, there are several reasons to report it to the police, even if it is something very small. For the police department to know there is a problem, one must be observed firsthand or be reported to us. We rely on the help of citizens in reporting many of these smaller less obvious problems. The combined reports that are generated enable patrol officers and detectives to concentrate on those areas of the city that may have a specific problem, and to address those issues with the appropriate resources.

There have been several cases in the past few years where we were able to better deploy our resources and capture criminals due to people reporting their “small item” stolen. The Santa Monica Police Department is constantly looking for crime patterns or trends. Once a crime pattern is observed, we quickly deploy resources to the area and work to rid the city of crime. In order for the police department to keep the city of Santa Monica a low crime, fun place to live, it is imperative that the citizens and police department work together. This can be done by reporting all suspicious activity to the Santa Monica Police Department dispatch center at (310) 458-8491. Additionally, if you have information that is confidential in nature, and do not wish to be identified after reporting a crime, you can provide information anonymously by relaying this desire to the dispatcher with whom you speak. Only by working and communicating together, will we keep the city of Santa Monica a great place to live and a desirable place to conduct business.

This column was prepared by NRO Joseph Cortez, Beat 4 (Montana Avenue to Interstate 10, 20th Street to Ocean Avenue, excluding Downtown). He can be reached at (424) 200-0684 or joseph.cortez@smgov.net.

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