If you ever call 911 in San Francisco, there is a chance you’ll hear my lovely voice. I’ve done a few PSA’s over the years here and with that in mind, let me offer a few tips for calling the police or 911 to save us both a lot of time and angst.
1. Cooperate. We are here to help you. The questions asked are necessary and often mandated. No, we can’t take your word for it. Yes, we can multitask. Oftentimes on critical incidents, emergency services are already on the way while we are still speaking. The more you fight the process the longer it will take.
2. Be specific. People often use subjective phrases that have to be clarified. A good one is “I was robbed”. How were you robbed? At gunpoint, grab and dash, vandalized car or locker, or an item is missing? We have to clarify what the problem is prior to dispatch. This is purely an educational issue I feel cities are failing to provide to it’s citizens.
3. Be realistic. Demanding an immediate response for infractions or even minor crimes is not going to get it. Agencies prioritize responses based on policies and rules, some of which are also legal mandates. There has to be a prioritization system because if everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency. And here is the bad news…response rules aren’t based on your level of frustration with a given problem. I know that last one is a hard pill to swallow.
Following these simple instructions will get you services as promptly as possible; based on the needs of the emergency services system and your compliance. Sorry, Facebook being down or the drive thru at McDonald’s being closed early is NOT an emergency or even a police issue. If you do have issues with the system, it cannot be addressed while you are on an emergency line. You can always contact a supervisor for dispatch or police, and/or contact your local government body.
What NOT TO DO:
Call 911 just because you don’t know the “other number.” This is a big one. If it’s not an emergency, look up the proper number. Hell, you can ask Siri or Google, they will tell you and offer to dial. In SF, you can also call 311, they can connect you with non emergency services. When you multiply these callers by 10 at any given moment, it clogs up 911 lines very quickly and literally prevents real emergent calls from getting answered timely. This is not an exaggeration. I’ve lost count of all the true emergency calls delayed in queue because the lines were tied up with lazy callers and accidental dials. Who knows how many deaths.
Be contrary. Agencies have protocols to triage all calls for police, fire, or medical. Deciding you will demand or don’t need to answer “a bunch of unnecessary questions” is likely to delay the help you need and potentially delay how fast it arrives on scene. You cannot override the system simply because you deem it necessary. Being nasty because you can’t get your way only makes you more frustrated in the end.
Take Offense. Our clipped and short questions are not a sign of disinterest or attitude. We process thousands of calls per day and we tend to focus on what we need for responding units and getting off the phone to answer the next emergency in queue. We don’t always have the luxury of validating the crime or your angst. It is not personal, so please don’t assume otherwise. We are also incredibly short-staffed.
We are used to getting demanding callers, it is the nature of the beast. Let’s face it, no one calls 911 because they are happy. We often encounter people at one of the worst moments in their lives. Frankly, the latter are rarely the problem. We completely understand that. However, I’ve noticed a trend lately where more & more callers in the non-emergent setting feel compelled to be contrary or make completely unrealistic demands.
Summary: You don’t have to be your best self, but being difficult for the sake of difficulty doesn’t get you what you want.