Authorities in Austin, Texas, said police are now urging the public to call 311 instead of 911 to report non-emergency cases.
Starting Friday, individuals in the city are required to use 311 when reporting crimes that are no longer in progress, when the suspect is not at the scene, or when there is no immediate threat to life or property, according to Austin police. Department.
“Please understand, if someone is in danger, we are still sending a unit with tags and an officer in uniform to deal with them,” Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon explained on Wednesday, according to KXAN-TV. “But for crimes that may have already occurred and are now being reported, we are looking at alternative measures, and that’s what we’re working on now.”
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Chacon said the changes come amid recent staffing challenges, a re-imagining of the recommendations of the Public Safety Task Force, and its review of its patrols’ COVID-19 mitigation protocols, which began in May 2020.
The department said it was trying to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus for the public and sworn police officers, who would no longer respond to those non-emergency calls, FOX 7 Austin reported.
“I feel, in many areas, not only clearly in our sworn officers on the street, but with the forensic property crime technicians and at the Austin 311 call center, that we are understaffed, and therefore, I think I would ask for a little patience. In many Sometimes people have to wait on hold when they call 311 in order to submit this report,” the interim chief said.
“If an officer is not necessarily needed, in other words, it is a crime that has clearly already been committed, and we can still have a property crime technician there to take pictures, collect evidence, present a case number and a way to follow up on the victim of a crime, then this might be the most appropriate way. , in fact, to deal with it so that I can free my officers to continue answering emergency calls to service where we have violent crime and people who are engaged in criminal activity.”
Police said offenses that could be considered non-emergency include theft, suspicious person or vehicle, verbal disagreements, prostitution, animal services, and burglary of a home, business or vehicle.
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“Again, if any of that list is still in progress, and there is an immediate threat to public safety, then calling 911 is appropriate, and we will dispatch an officer,” Chacon noted.
Last month, a North Carolina man said his daughter was in Austin for a stag party with friends when the house they were renting was burgled, KXAN-TV reported.
“They proceeded to contact the police and were referred to 311, who instructed them to start an online report. No law enforcement official reached the site,” Darren Short explained.
After not hearing for weeks, he said they received a call Wednesday afternoon that the officer should call them within 48 hours, according to the station.
Chacon said reports collected by 311, or online at ireportaustin.com, will still be submitted to investigators — and investigators will follow up when they are able to do so.
He added that the non-emergency response could be re-evaluated if the department was able to fill the vacant officer positions.
“We will be seeking input in this area from stakeholders in our community, from city council, and from members of the community as a whole in the coming months to see how they want to deliver these police services, and then we will be able to determine how we really need many more officers,” Chacon said. “.
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The president noted that if someone is unsure whether a particular call is an emergency, they should still call 911.