Some call this "the tyranny of 911," says Chuck Wexler, who runs the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. 911 promises a prompt response to an emergency call, Wexler says, but research has shown that rapid response doesn't make for more arrests or more citizen satisfaction. "But ... there was a tremendous push to get people to call 911, and the system really overloaded," Wexler says.
To deal with the overload, some cities have adopted 311, a non-emergency, easy-to remember number for police assistance and other public services.
Other cities, like Milwaukee, use what they call "differential response": On some calls, you dispatch an officer; on others you take a report by phone.
The City of Miami has devised a different system to help manage the 911 workload. It dispatches what it calls Public Service Aides on non-emergencies, like accidents or crime scenes where the offender is no longer present.
There are potential flaws in all the schemes to neutralize the tyranny of 911. For many people, it's such a memorable number, they still call it even when 311 would be more appropriate.
Skeptics of a differential response system, where some reports are simply taken by phone, say it robs the police of the ability to flush out the significant number of reported auto thefts that are actually insurance scams. And a burglary victim, however removed from danger, still feels a sense of violation that deserves a visit from a cop, detractors say.
Police Take Different Approaches To 'The Tyranny Of 911' : NPR