Vera Institute of Justice Announces Policing Initiative to Develop Alternatives to Enforcement in Response to 911 Calls

“Understanding Police Enforcement: A 911 Data Analysis will review 911 data and police response outcomes from two police departments to help law enforcement reduce arrests and jail admissions

New York, November 13, 2018—Over 240 million calls are made to 911 across the United States each year, the vast majority of which are unrelated to emergencies or crimes in progress. Police officers who respond to 911 calls are often asked to deal with various societal problems including family and mental health crises, conflicts in schools, and “quality of life” offenses such as public intoxication and panhandling. Yet, officers responding to 911 calls have few tools at their disposal beyond enforcement—meaning that once an officer is on the scene of a conflict or call for service, the most likely outcome is the issuance of a summons, citation, or arrest. This leads to nearly 10 million arrests—and several million jail admissions—annually for low-level, non-serious offenses. Additionally, managing this large call volume poses operational challenges for police agencies and taxes limited police resources.

Currently, there is little research to understand which 911 calls actually require sending a sworn officer to the scene, and whether an officer is even the most appropriate response—as opposed to other professionals who are better trained to handle mental health and substance use crises, for instance. To fill this critical gap in knowledge, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera)—in partnership with the Camden County, New Jersey Police Department and Tucson, Arizona Police Department—has launched Understanding Police Enforcement: A 911 Data Analysis, an initiative that will study the effectiveness of current 911 call processing and develop alternative responses to police enforcement.

“911 calls for service are the beginnings of virtually every criminal justice encounter, but they are one of the least understood areas of the system,” noted Rebecca Neusteter, Director of Vera’s Policing Program. “Our limited understanding of the scale and scope of 911 calls for service means that there are few, if any, alternatives to arrest or other types of enforcement when police are called. Filling this gap in knowledge and practice will not only make our communities safer—by diverting people from unnecessary and potentially harmful criminal justice involvement—but it will also help to bridge the divide between police and the communities they serve.”

Vera will conduct an in-depth analysis of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) data from the Camden and Tucson police departments to understand what types of incidents are being reported to 911 and over officer dispatch, any demographics about who is making these calls, the frequency of calls, information about resource allocation and who is responding to these calls, and the ultimate outcome of the call. The analysis of the publicly-available CAD data will be coupled with Vera’s more in-depth examination of data made available through research agreements with both police departments.

“The Camden County Police Department is pleased to partner with the Vera Institute of Justice on this initiative,” said J. Scott Thomson, Chief of Police for Camden. “At a time of broken police-community relationships across the nation, it is imperative that officers have the tools and resources necessary to develop alternative responses to enforcement—helping to ease the current strain on police resources and improve trust and collaboration with the communities we serve.”

Chris Magnus, chief of police for Tucson, added, “The goal of this project is to reduce unnecessary police contacts and improve both officer and civilian safety and well-being. Through this partnership with Vera, we hope to improve our responses to community needs as well as the effectiveness of police resource deployment.”

Drawing on over 55 years of experience collaborating with policing partners, Vera’s work on this initiative will include the examination of preexisting literature on 911 calls for service, the analysis of 911-CAD data to identify trends, the development of a system processing map, and the convening of law enforcement leaders and system stakeholders to contextualize these research findings and explore future alternatives to enforcement. Vera will present preliminary research findings to its law enforcement partners in December, and will release a final report to the public in June 2019.

Through this foundational research, and in partnership with the Camden County and Tucson Police Departments, Vera will elevate the conversation on alternatives to police enforcement with the goal of developing and testing actionable alternatives that can be adopted by police departments nationwide. Support for this project is provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.


About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice, and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement it. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. For more information about Serving Safely and the Vera Institute of Justice, see

About the Laura and John Arnold Foundation

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s core objective is to improve the lives of individuals by strengthening our nation’s social, governmental, and economic systems. Its investments are focused on criminal justice, education, health care, and several other key areas. LJAF has offices in Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.