Q: I was trying to make an international phone call the other day and I ended up calling 911 by mistake. I hung up and dialed the correct number but I think an operator from the police department was trying to call me while I was on the phone. I continued my international call and about five minutes later, I had two Santa Monica police officers standing at my front door. The officers said they were at my home to make sure no one had an emergency. I told them I called 911 by mistake, but I hung up before I spoke to anyone. I made a simple mistake, but did the police really have to come and check on me?

A: The Santa Monica Police Department receives thousands of 911 calls every year. These calls range from medical emergencies to crimes in progress, and in some cases, we even receive 911 calls when phone equipment malfunctions during periods of severe weather (rain, wind, etc.). When a call is received by 911 and there is no one speaking to the operator, we don’t know what is going on or what the reason for the call may be.

I have been a police officer for 17 years and have responded to thousands of 911 calls during my career. More than half of those responses were to locations (homes and offices) where the caller either hung up or didn’t speak to the 911 operator. I have also responded to locations where people have had a medical emergency and passed out before they were able to speak to the 911 operator. There were times where an individual tried to call 911 for help but an assailant prevented the caller from speaking to an operator. I have also responded to homes where a young child was able to get to the phone and pushed the emergency button (which automatically calls 911) and the parents had no idea the child had the phone.

When we receive 911 calls and are unable to speak to someone on the other end of the line, we respond to the location to make sure there is not an emergency. If you are calling from a land line or pay phone, the address from where the call was made will appear on the operator’s computer screen when the call is answered by an operator. The operator will then call the number and try to speak with someone to see if there is an emergency. If the operator cannot reach anyone, they will then dispatch police officers to the location to make sure there isn’t an emergency.

If you call 911 by mistake and you are aware of it, don’t hang up. Please stay on the line and speak with the operator. Tell the operator you dialed 911 by mistake and don’t have an emergency.

Q: I have never had to call 911 for anything before, and lately I have noticed some suspicious activity in my neighborhood. Can I call 911 for this, or is there another number I can call when I see this type of activity?

A: Let’s differentiate between 911 and the Santa Monica Police Department’s non-emergency number. First, let’s talk about 911. A person should typically call 911 for the following situations:

• A fire

• A medical emergency, such as choking, drowning, electrocution, severe injury/burn/bleeding, etc.

• A situation where serious personal injury has occurred or may occur

• A life-threatening situation such as a fight, a person with a weapon, etc.

• Any crime in progress where you are a victim or witness, whether or not a life is threatened

• Any crime that has just been committed for which you are a victim or witness and can provide suspect and/or vehicle description that can help the police make an apprehension

• A traffic accident with serious injuries

• Other dangerous occurrences, such as a gas leak or downed power lines

When you call 911, here’s what you need to do:

• Remain calm (I know this can be tough in certain situations) and speak clearly and slowly

• Describe the emergency to the operator

• Give the address (or intersection) where help is needed

• The operator will ask you questions about what you have seen. Please be brief and responsive. The operator will ask you questions like what happened, where it happened, if there are injuries and the number of suspects involved. Operators may also ask if vehicles are involved (and how many) and direction of travel for the vehicles. The operator will ask the caller all these questions because he or she is trying to get as much information as possible to pass on to responding officers. Responding officers use this information to assess the situation and decide on the appropriate action to take

• Remain on the line until the operator advises you it is OK to hang up

There may be times when you need an officer to respond to your location but it may not be an emergency and calling 911 would be inappropriate. The SMPD’s non–emergency number — (310) 458-8491 — should be utilized for these types of situations. Non-emergency incidents include (but are not limited to):

• Vehicle break-ins, thefts and burglaries where the crime has already occurred and the victim/witness cannot provide information that would assist in the apprehension of the suspect(s)

• Vandalism

• Disturbances that are not violent or life threatening

• Nuisances such as barking dogs, loud music or other excessive noise

• Suspicious activity where a crime is not being committed but the citizen feels a crime may be committed due to time of day, location and recent crime activity in the area.

Those are just a few incidents that will hopefully provide a guide to citizens on what number to call when they need assistance from the Santa Monica Police Department. If you have any questions about this, please do not hesitate to contact me. My information, as well as the other neighborhood resource officers, can be found at www.santamonicapd.org.

This column was written by Neighborhood Resource Officer Artis Williams, (Beat 7, Sunset Park Neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0687 or artis.williams@smgov.net.