What you probably haven’t heard about how 911 works, as told to West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ Network

September 24, 2019 8:29 pm
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 |   Neighborhoods | Safety | West Seattle news

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Just concluded this past hour at the Southwest Precinct, the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network‘s first post-summer-hiatus meeting, with a featured presentation delving deeper into how 911 works.

WSBWCN co-founder Karen Berge led the meeting, with some new participants among the ~20 attendees.

POLICE BRIEFING: “Our summer wasn’t as problematic as anticipated,” began precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis. He talked about trying to track serial offenders “post-arrest,” and ongoing strategies including “area saturation … targeted enforcement … (and) public awareness.” They also use data to “track repeated call locations” which often help them find the aforementioned “serial offenders.” Crime in the area is down overall about 10 percent from a year earlier; he stressed the importance of “report, report, report,” even if it’s something small and simple. That helps police know where in the area – the SW Precinct covers West Seattle and South Park – to focus the types of strategies he mentioned.

In Q&A, he was first asked if LEAD had been implemented yet.

Not yet – other precincts are ahead in line, Capt. Davis said. He then was asked about the return of Community Service Officers. He said he’s not yet sure exactly what their duties will be. Third question was about a neighborhood circulating information and imagery of a prowler caught on camera. Nothing stolen that they knew of. Do police want those? Capt. Davis’s reply: “That information is good for us to have, that there’s a problematic individual out in the neighborhood, and we can make contact with them.” For example – assuming this is not something happening now, in which case you should call 911 – you can contact the Community Police Team. Another attendee asked about the “crime pipeline” that the C Line bus represents; Metro Transit Police handle what handles aboard the actual buses, but once someone’s off – at Westwood Village, for example – SPD has been having emphasis patrols in that area.

911 CENTER: The center’s manager Brian Smith has presented before, but more “high level,” he said, so this time it would be more “in the weeds” – what happens once you call, what’s done with the information, etc. Smith reminded people that the same center handles non-emergency calls, and also – since last December – texts too (meant as an option for people who cannot call safely). They get 400 reports filed online each week; last year, the center got 800.000 calls. They try to answer in 10 seconds or less and have a 98 percent track record on that; for the non-emergency line (206-625-5011) it’s obviously longer.

The person who answers is a calltaker, whose job is to screen your call via the five W’s – starting with “what is your emergency?” Your job is to reply with a brief description of what’s happening. Next, they’ll ask “where” is this happening. “Exact addresses are best.” The directional (SW in most of West Seattle, for example) description is vital; cross-streets can help too. Landmarks can be helpful (park, school, etc.) The calltaker will then ask if you’re inside or outside, if you’re by a street or alley, a specific room. Note that cell phones do not provide an exact address the way landlines do – the initial map provided on the calltaker’s screen will be relatively vague. Newer phones are getting a little better at pinpointing. Make sure your phone’s OS is up to date, and turn on the location service, which can help you be located. Also: Sign up for Smart 911.

Next “W” is “when?” Is this happening now – hours ago – days ago? Then – “weapon.” The calltaker needs to know if one was involved and will ask some clarifying questions about that. Final W is “who” – “who’s involved?” Descriptions come into play here. “Top to bottom, outside to inside.” They’ll ask if a vehicle was involved and then for a description if so – color, make, model, plate. Once hey have all this, they need to categorize the type of crime. SPD does not use codes like you might have seen on TV – they use plain language. And finally, they’ll determine a priority – “Priority 1” calls are immediate responses, a threat to someone’s life, for example. “Priority 2” is urgent, such as altercations and just-occurred property crimes. “Priority 3” is a property crime that did not just happen/is not happening now. By the way, if the situation changes, call back. Your call may change in priority if circumstances change. Also be aware that they might call you back if they need more information.

Tips for calling: “Let the operator guide the call.” They know what information they need to move the call forward. “If the operator asks you something you don’t know, ‘I don’t know’ is a good answer.” Also remember that the person taking your call is NOT the person dispatching or the person responding to your call, so answering questions is NOT slowing down response. The dispatcher gets all the info that the calltaker provides. At this point Smith noted that there’s one dispatcher handling the Southwest and South Precinct calls on one frequency and handling them in order of priority.

They also have a “status monitor” showing the officers who are available and who’s been assigned – in some cases, a call might come in but no officers are available for that sector (every area of the precinct is in a geographical sector). They also have a real-time map that shows them where the officers are, even if they are in motion. Two officers are sent to in-progress calls, and the first one to arrive will wait for the second before going in.

We asked about something we notice during our many hours of daily scanner listening – calls that are dispatched to an officer’s screen rather than by voice. Smith explained that usually involves calls that are non-emergency, to which a single officer can be sent. But there are certain other types dispatched by screen – such as particularly sensitive calls, a bomb threat, for example – rather than voice.

The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network will meet again October 22nd, then be on holiday-season hiatus. Watch for updates here.

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