Ask a cop

In the case of an emergency, call 911. This instruction has been reiterated to us for decades, so much so that we’d have trouble forgetting this three-digit combo even in the direst of situations. But what qualifies as an emergency? Does the loud party next door keeping me awake warrant a call to the police? What if I think I hear gunshots, but can’t pinpoint where? Instead of taking time to ponder these questions in criminal and possibly dangerous situations, know the facts about 911.

Is there a number to call for more minor crimes?

No, 911 is what you call no matter what. Anything from loud music to seeing somebody get shot. But what we do ask is if it’s a recurring issue — such as your neighbors playing loud music every night of the week — you call the station to ask to a supervisor or our ICP (Interactive Community Policing) unit.

Is there ever a time when residents waste police officers’ time by calling 911?

That is why we have the call prioritization system. If somebody’s life is in danger, or if somebody is in immediate harm, those calls are moved to the top of the list. Loud music calls are usually moved to the bottom of the list. Calls are not dispatched in order of when they come in; they are dispatched in order of what’s going on. Obviously, we want to get to somebody who’s in harm’s way immediately. But if a loud music call comes in, and there are no higher priorities, then it would get dispatched as it comes in.

What if I see something suspicious and it turns out to be nothing? Is it possible that an armed robber would have time to get away while police are checking out my concerns?

We want people to go ahead and call things in because you never know, and that’s what we’re there for — to try to figure out what’s going on. That’s how we get a lot of information. It might be you calling, then someone two blocks over calling about the same thing, and if we get a series of those calls, we can figure out which way a suspicious person is traveling. You don’t know it’s nothing until after we’ve had a chance to talk to you. Officers are looking for those suspicious people and vehicles in route to the call, and have found people this way. That’s why it’s so important to tell the dispatcher anything you see, so we can be looking on our way to a call.

What if the 911 operator doesn’t listen to my concern?

Definitely ask for a supervisor. The 911 system is under the fire department (people who have been in Dallas for a while know that) and operators route the calls to the correct department. But if somebody’s not happy with the response, they need to ask for a supervisor.

The Northeast Division has about 300 sworn personnel covering an 85 square-mile area with roughly 290,000 people living in it, which translates to a one officer per 950 residents ratio. Is it true that the more 911 phone calls northeast residents make, the more police personnel we have?

That’s not how it works. There are a lot of things taken into consideration, such as the number of crimes occurring in an area and how far an officer has to travel. In the crimes per 1,000 population, we’re at 9.6 for violent crime and 55.6 for property crime. Comparing that to other divisions, we’re low. We’re not the lowest, but we’re one of the lowest in the city. As far as 911 calls helping us get more officers, I’ve never heard that. But what the 911 calls do is help us determine where we’re having problems. We can see if we’re getting a lot of calls from the same location, or if it’s the same people calling, or if there’s a general trend in the area.


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