Baltimore has one of the most overloaded 911 systems in the United States with staffing problems in the police patrol division. The Baltimore Police Department recently created a new telephone reporting system but it is now issuing some clarification on procedures for calling 911.
The new reporting system is designed to reduce the demand on police officers to show up in person for calls. Baltimore residents have long had a habit of calling 911 for nearly everything, from dogs on the loose and minor fender benders to major accidents and crimes. The Baltimore Police Department is trying to break this habit by encouraging residents to only report some crimes and emergencies to 911 and divert other reports to a different phone system or online.
Every year, the Baltimore police receive over 1 million calls for service. The city has the highest rate of 911 calls in the country and most are not emergencies. The department uses 311 and 911 operators to divert non-emergency calls to its telephone reporting system that may resolve calls for service over the phone.
The Baltimore Police Department says its goal is reducing the workload on officers so they can focus more on emergencies to get to these priority calls faster.
As always, very serious calls for service are dispatched for immediate police response, including calls regarding domestic violence, crimes in progress, suspects on the scene, crimes that just occurred, and immediate threats or danger.
The Baltimore police encourage residents to use online reporting for less serious calls such as illegal dumping, lost property, theft, auto larceny, and property destruction.
A recent report found that the Baltimore Police Department is severely shortchanging patrol units while keeping other department areas fully staffed. While the positions are there, the department doesn’t place the same value on the officers that residents say they want to see the most: patrol officers. There are 1,102 patrol officer positions in Baltimore but just 809 are filled. This has created a vacancy rate of 26.6%. Of the 1,240 non-patrol positions, 1,217 are filled.
Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle recently made the decision to reassign 115 police officers to patrol and shut down the burglary unit.
The report also concluded that community policing may require less focus on specialized units, such as the disbanded Gun Trace Track Force, which the Baltimore Police Department has relied upon for decades.
One possible solution to Baltimore’s 911 overload may be a system that has been introduced in Washington, DC: the use of triage nurses. In DC, triage nurses now sit with 911 dispatchers to assist with call fielding. Most 911 calls in Baltimore are not emergencies and include calls regarding injuries like fractures and rashes. The triage program is designed to reduce the number of non-emergency 911 calls by diverting non-urgent calls to medical care that does not require an emergency room or ambulance.
When the triage nurse determines the caller is not facing an emergency, they assist the caller with creating an appointment with a primary care provider who can see the caller the same day. The triage nurses in DC are even able to coordinate free Lyft rides for Medicaid patients.