What my Police Commissioner from long ago
understood, and what many of today's police chiefs
and commanders have forgotten – if they ever knew
– is that, unlike technology, people don't change all
that much. Depending upon where you become a
police officer, you may find that 911 is a monster.
In Baltimore, the 911 system became so popular
and utilized that Baltimore became the first city to
implement the 311 system for non-emergency
calls. While the 311 system has been declared a
stunning success, that's a conclusion that's open to
interpretation. Again, you've got people at the end
of a telephone line – rarely police officers these days
– deciding what is or is not an emergency and
prioritizing calls in order of importance.
The basic problem with 911, or any other
technology utilized by police departments, is the
belief of politicians and top police commanders that
the more expensive and complicated a technology
is, the less people it will take to feed the
technology. When you join a police department,
you'll soon hear the complaints about Patrol's time
being consumed with "chasing 911 calls." You see,
the uniformed police officers of the patrol bureau or
division of any police department are the people
tasked with responding to 911 calls for service.
Back to my first Police Commissioner. Looking back
over the years and all the changes I've observed, he
seems like a genius. More realistically, he was just
a highly skilled and competent administrator. When
it came to calls for service, he knew that he had to
structure his human resources to meet demand,
and that the police officer's response time was the
measure of efficiency. He also knew that uniform
patrol, the most important and indispensable entity
of any police department, had to be viewed and
maintained as such.
I guess it all comes down to how you view things.
When you're "chasing 911 calls," don't be too quick
to blame the people making the calls. First, look at
how your patrol force is structured and maintained.
If you examine the issue closely along with all the
schemes to dissect and prioritize, you may
eventually find yourself in agreement with me and a
long forgotten Baltimore Police Commissioner.
"If you examine the issue closely along with all
the schemes to dissect and prioritize, you may
eventually find yourself in agreement with me
and a long forgotten Baltimore Police
Commissioner." ~ Barry M. Baker
I often complain about inefficiency. As I've stated
many times, it's always the people implementing
and using technology that determines the level of
its efficiency... or inefficiency.
I was a patrol officer when the 911 emergency
telephone system was first implemented. It's been
with us for a very long time now, and one would
think that any problems associated with the 911
system would have long since been resolved.
But...remember? People remain an intragal part of
When I began my police career, the citizens of
Baltimore would dial 222-3333 for police service. It
was a few more numbers than 911, but it was easy
to remember and dial, and I never heard anyone
complain about the number. The calls were
answered in the police department's
Communications Division. The Division was heavily
staffed by limited duty police officers who were
either permanently, or temporarily, unable to work
the street due to physical disabilities. The officers
had street experience, so they could easily relate to
callers and the problems they'd describe.
We responded to everything. The Police
Commissioner at that time was guided by a
philosophy of service, and he projected that
philosophy to every aspect of the department's
mission. For some reason, I'll always remember a
call I received early on a Sunday morning. The
dispatcher gave me the assignment, "Respond to
[address] and investigate the woman's problem."
Doesn't sound like much to go on, does it?
However, remember that the dispatcher was a police
officer. I knew that he probably knew what the
problem was and since he didn't elaborate, I knew
that the problem likely had nothing to do with police
work. I also knew that he was not omitting any
information that would affect my safety. You'll
notice that I use the words "probably" and "likely,"
because you must never take anything for granted
when it comes to police work. I responded to this
call with the same care and caution as I would on
Okay...you're probably expecting something really
scary. Sorry, not so. A frail lady in her 80's
answered the door. She was distraught – not
because she'd been attacked or that someone had
attempted to break into her home... no, nothing
that dramatic. She was distraught because the
water in her toilet tank would not stop running.
Now, if you're one of the tough no nonsense cops,
you might tell this woman to call a plumber and
leave it at that. Then again, picture yourself nearing
the end of your life, physically frail, living alone with
no family or relatives nearby, and living on a fixed
income. I'm sure you could appreciate having a
police officer humiliate you for wasting his or her
time for such an insignificant problem. In this case,
it took me all of a minute to fix the problem, and I
doubt the citizens of Baltimore suffered from my
brief out-of-title task.
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker