‘Citizens Are Our First Responders’

By Grace Kuikman

Calling 9-1-1 Makes Communities Safer

“Citizens are really the first responders,” said Sherrie Wright, Chicago Police Communications Officer 2, 9-1-1 Training Division (pictured). “Community involvement is key to community safety.”

Wright has ten years of experience as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the last 2½ as a trainer. She recommend that people trust their instincts and call 9-1-1, even if they’re not sure they should. “This is your every day life,” Wright said, explaining that residents know what’s normal where they live.  “Err on the side of caution.” And don’t assume someone else is calling.

Some examples of suspicious activity that should be called in to 9-1-1 are people lingering on the block, looking into doorways or windows, checking doors on homes or cars.

The Police would rather get a call and find out it’s not a problem than miss the chance to respond to an issue that could escalate or put people or property in harm’s way. The police will use all of the information you provide and respond with the appropriate resources, Wright explained. They want to hear from you.

Keeping Communities Safe

Calling 9-1-1 is not just about reacting to crime, it’s about keeping safe communities safe and preventing crime. Criminals prefer targeting areas where people aren’t watching and calling police. Nosey neighbors are best neighbors.

9-1-1 calls are important tracking tools that help police uncover crime trends and allocate resources. According to Wright, 9-1-1 calls provide an ongoing history about a location or household where there may be problems. The information provided by callers provide important evidence as well as patterns that may need to be addressed by police or shared with community partners. The more issues reported at a location, the better the argument for assigning a special attention or additional resources.

Your Right to Anonymity

Callers can remain anonymous. “Anonymity is every citizen’s right,” Wright said. People can request to remain anonymous at any time during a 9-1-1 call as long as they are not the victim of the crime or there is no need for them to meet with the police. Requesting anonymity does not delete your contact information, but hides it from the dispatcher and responding police. For certain crimes, police must canvass all neighbors for information or witnesses – if a caller is contacted during a police canvass, it is not a breach of anonymity.

Your 9-1-1 Call

Time is of the essence when you call 9-1-1, and Wright encourages community residents to be prepared when they call. “Have patience with the call taker,” Wright advised. “It seems like a lot of questions are being asked, but they all have a purpose.”

Wright shared the 5 W’s of what 9-1-1 dispatchers will ask to help citizens think about and look for important details if they ever witness a crime or need to report suspicious activity:

WHERE Try to provide a street address (best), block or intersection. Also report where on the property the incident is occurring – garage, back yard, front porch, etc., and any nearby landmarks.

WHAT What is happening determines what kind of resources need to be dispatched. Be as specific as possible: loitering, people attempting to break into a house, robbery in progress, fire etc.

WHO Give as much detail as you can about the suspicious person(s), starting with gender, race, height and weight, clothing, shoes; distinguishing characteristics like tattoos, scars, marks, haircuts or hair color, etc. If there is a vehicle involved, try to identify the make, model, color, license plate number, etc.

If you are the victim, there is a second WHO: Who are you and how can the police locate you?

WHEN If the activity is in progress, say it’s happening right now and response is urgently needed. If it’s over, give the date and time it occurred.

WEAPONS If there are any kinds of weapons being used – even things that aren’t usually weapons, like a brick or bat — let the dispatcher know.

Additional details that can help police include whether there are mental or physical disabilities, or medications involved. “Paint as clear a picture as possible,” Wright said.

Staying involved in the community is a resident’s first line of defense, Wright said. She encourages residents to work with the 22nd District Police, CAPS and organizations like BAPA and with the ward office to maximize communications and drive resources to the area.