A few days ago, a local resident called to complain about drug dealing on her street about a mile south of downtown.
There were a couple of people standing on the corner, she said, and she had never seen them before. One had a wad of cash and the two were passing something back and forth. They were obviously dealing drugs, the woman said.
Well, maybe, though the two stood there for some time and no one ever drove up or approached the pair.
But it was suspicious, so the woman decided to call the desk sergeant, the number one usually calls for nonemergency purposes.
She wasn’t thrilled with the result she got.
It was like calling social media, she said. She got a recording that started by saying this wasn’t 911, and if there was a real emergency or a crime in progress to hang up and call 911.
The recording continued. If you’re calling about vandalism or custody issues or ID theft, among several other topics, press 1.
If you are calling about towing a vehicle, gun permits or several other topics, press 2.
Callers are told to press 3 if they are calling about street lights, animal problems, and things like that.
Finally, callers could press 9 to repeat the choices, or stay on the line if they were calling about something that didn’t seem to fit any of the criteria mentioned.
That bugged the woman. Why couldn’t she get a human right away, which is not an uncommon complaint.
When she finally did get a human, she had a conversation in which she says it was suggested she call Crime Stoppers. That was baffling for her. People call Crime Stoppers when they have information on a crime that has been committed.
I talked to Michael Joyner, the police department’s public information officer.
He was equally baffled that the woman was told to call Crime Stoppers. Obviously, Joyner said, something was lost in translation during the woman’s conversation.
People call that line when they overhear someone they know bragging that they made some easy money by holding up a grocery store. You can get cash rewards for turning in crooks.
It all does raise a good question. People know what constitutes something suspicious in their neighborhoods. So if you see something suspicious, who should you call?
It’s a judgment call, Joyner says, but people seeing something they regard as suspicious should call the desk sergeant at 427-1222. It’s not an emergency. It’s what police call priority 2. Police won’t ignore the call, but no one is going to be called off a priority 1 call to check out something less important.
However, if you witness a crime in progress or a person is in danger, people should call 911.
For example, if you see a couple of people lurking in the shadows, looking in the windows of a home and perhaps trying to open windows, that could be regarded as an attempt to burglarize a home. It’s a crime in progress and rates a call to 911.
But if you see a lot of suspicious traffic to a particular home and you suspect it’s a drug house, you don’t call 911, even through there might be active drug dealing. At the same time, you wouldn’t necessarily call the desk sergeant, either. You would call the drug house tip line at 427-1267.
As for the automated answering systems, humans practically never answer the phone any more, except on 911.