Vera Report Defines Landscape of 911 Calls for Police Service

The study explores 911 call processing, how accurately calls are categorized and handled, and how characteristics of 911 calls impact police officers’ service to communities

NEW YORK, NY – In a report released today, the Vera Institute of Justice defines the landscape of 911 calls for police service and answers fundamental questions about how communications personnel and police respond to them. With more than 240 million 911 calls made each year, a sizable portion of police officers’ time consists of responding to calls for service. Some cities are exploring how 911 dispatching systems can help shrink the scope of policing and Understanding Police Enforcement: A Multicity 911 Analysis highlights this relationship and areas that can benefit from further research.

The report examines data from 911 systems across the country, which operate independently, using different protocols, codes, and formats to record and store data. Findings suggest the need for local conversations about whether certain types of 911 calls require responses by police at all. There are critical gaps in knowledge regarding the underlying needs, causes, and consequences for resource-intensive calls that do not involve a crime, such as unverified burglar alarms or mental health and medical incidents.

“The report provides insight into what actually happens behind the scenes when a call is made to 911 – information previously unknown to most people. The majority of calls to 911 were non-criminal and could use non-police alternatives, meaning that the ‘send police to everything’ approach is part of the problem,” said Frankie Wuenschel, research associate with Vera’s policing team. “We also found that 911 communication centers lack standardization, from call-taking approaches to information intake systems and procedures, making comparing jurisdictions and pushing national initiatives difficult. This report is an important step to decrease unnecessary police involvement with communities.”

911 systems are both massive and neglected. Clear needs have emerged for better call-taking and recording practices, as well as standardized codes and procedures, with the goal of improving the safety and well-being of officers, community members, call-takers, and dispatchers.

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 on for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans; and Los Angeles.