Tips for conducting an analysis of 911 calls
As you evaluate what functions your police department is currently fulfilling and how those services operate, one essential piece of the puzzle is conducting an analysis of 911 calls. The vast majority of 911 calls and other calls for service are not related to violent offenses or crimes in progress; in fact, most constitute low-priority, minor incident, or behavioral health calls. A careful study of these calls can yield valuable information about community needs and how they are currently addressed by the police department.
Why analyze 911 calls and other calls for service?
Such an analysis can help you determine:
- How often and on what topics community members call for help;
- Which areas of your community and which type of people most often call for emergency support, and conversely, who is not calling 911;
- How police spend their time (calls for service do not reveal the full picture of how officers spend their time, such as on investigative or administrative duties, but they do present a starting place).
Most critically, analyzing 911 calls can help you identify which types of calls for service might be better served by a different type of response besides an armed officer.
What type of data to get?
In requesting data and conducting an analysis, the more data the better. Data might need to be collected from both the 911 dispatch system as well as the police department’s record management system. Try to amass the following variables:
- Call type, call category, priority level, and call source
- Location data, including call location and officer precinct
- Timing data, including time call was placed, officer dispatch and arrival time, and when the response was closed
- Any information available on outcomes, charges, arrests, or description
- Any identifying information available on the person encountered by police response (this would not come from the 911 call data but rather from police records)
Consider the role of the 911 call center
Even in locations that have developed alternative responses to non-violent calls for service, it has been a process to restructure and retrain how 911 call takers dispatch a response. Several localities have incorporated clinicians and other personnel with expertise in behavioral health to better inform how emergency calls are handled and triaged. One worthwhile step in your evaluation of calls for service is to visit the 911 call center to talk to dispatchers and better understand how the system works.
Additional Resources and Case Studies
- Case studies:
- Assessment of Austin Police Department Calls for Service, Austin Justice Coalition
- 911/MPD Workgroup Recommendations, City of Minneapolis
- Data Analysis of the City of Berkeley’s Police Response, Berkeley City Auditor
- The Community Responder Model: How Cities Can Send the Right Responder to Every 911 Call, Center for American Progress and Law Enforcement Action Partnership
- How Do the Police Actually Spend Their Time, New York Times
- Understanding Police Enforcement: A Multicity 911 Analysis Summary Brief, Vera Institute of Justice