If it’s not an emergency, dial 311 for Baltimore police

Baltimore’s new non-emergency dispatch number  accessed by dialing 311  is a hit with the public and is even more popular with police because it is helping to reduce the volume of calls to which they must respond.

The system, which began operations Oct. 1, is seen by Federal officials as a test of a pilot program to set up toll-free, non-emergency numbers nationwide. In July, President Clinton proposed such a system, saying the 911 system “is groaning under the weight of thousands of calls a year.” The two-year project is being overseen by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

A public-awareness campaign that includes public-service announcements on billboards and in the local media urges Baltimoreans to dial 311 to report non-emergencies, which constitute as much as 60 percent of all 911 calls to police. So far, the word appears to be getting out to the public, said police Sgt. Nelson Herrman, administrator of the city’s 911/311 system.

“We’re getting about one-third of our volume of 911 calls going to 311,” Herrman told Law Enforcement News. “The public seems to have grasped it very quickly and are using it. We hope that as time goes on, it will be handling more and more of the call volume.”

Herrman said residents are being asked to use 311 for incidents that are not life-threatening, where no suspects are present at the scene and which pose no danger to the public.

While the new system has certainly eased the strain on officers rushing to respond to 911 calls, Herrman said it is too early to determine how much time and effort the system has saved.

“We’re making modifications day by day as things come up,” Herrman said. “The purpose of the pilot program is to try different things and see what works best. Before we can do a fair analysis, we’ll have to let it run for a while.”

AT&T is paying for the upgrade of the dispatch center, which allows for non-emergency calls to 911 to be automatically transferred to 311, while a $300,000 Federal grant is expected to fund the rest of the project.


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Published in Law Enforcement News
Nov. 30, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.