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by Peter Moskos

March 7, 2008

911 is still a joke

In his blog, Bradford Plumer writes a thoughtful analysis of one chapter of Cop in the Hood (scroll down to “Call a Cab Cause a Cab Will Come Quicker,” and the comments in particular).

I learned of a 911 operator in Detroit criminally convicted of negligence for failing to take a call from a 5-year-old boy seriously. The boy's mom died. But I listened to the call. She shouldn’t have taken the call seriously. She was right (even if in this case she was dead wrong)!

No city has tried to "unsell" the public on 911. It is way too tough, politically.

People think that 911 saves lives (and it does for fire and ambo). I think the first job is to educate the public about the "bullshit" nature of the majority of 911 calls.

It's too easy to say police need to respond to every call without understanding how this response isn't feasible. Responding to thousands of needless 911 calls prevents the police from getting out of their cars and doing the kind of real police work that would really save lives.

In a year in the Eastern District, police have to respond to over 6,300 "911 hang-ups." That's over 5 percent of all calls. Police have better things to do. Here's how probably 6,299 of them went:
[Cop knocks on door]

"Did you call 911?"

[indignantly] "No!”

"Well somebody did."

"I didn't!"

"Do you have kids"


"Well tell them to stop playing with the phone."

"My baby wasn't playing the phone!"

"Ok. Whatever. Good bye."

[door slams]

For that, we don't have officers walking the beat.

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