New Orleans’ 911 center revamping how emergency calls are prioritized

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 10:55 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In the newest initiative aimed at improving police response time, New Orleans’ 911 center is changing its protocols for prioritizing emergency calls.

Orleans Parish Communications District director Tyrell Morris said the system in place before the weekend was loaded with bureaucratic red tape, requiring dispatchers to coordinate with police supervisors to downgrade calls that were obviously non-emergencies.

“The overarching priority is to make sure we reserve resources for true emergencies,” Morris said. “One of the most important questions we’re going to ask is when this incident occurred.”

When someone dials 911 and requests law enforcement presence, the call is placed into one of three buckets: Priority 0, Priority 1 and Priority 2.

Priority 0 consists of calls that require alternate police response, such as mental health calls. Priority 1 is for non-emergencies that require a police response, and Priority 2 is reserved for emergencies.

Morris said that before the revamp, calls that were obviously not Priority 2 often were being grouped with Priority 2 calls, delaying officers’ response time to truer emergencies.

“We had a lot of calls that were coded as emergencies that were not true emergencies,” he said, “and it required a significant administrative burden (from an NOPD district supervisor) to review each and every single one of those calls for a human to say, ‘Oh, this one can be downgraded.’

“The data showed -- if we set the system up right -- we could have made that decision on the front end.”

NOPD Supt. Shaun Ferguson said the department’s average emergency response time is around 11 minutes, but that he wants to see that number in the single digits.

Morris said, “Just looking at the amount of radio traffic, how often that we have to raise a supervisor to make a decision, something that’s clearly obvious by reading what the caller told us, but we didn’t have policy or process to support that. We now do today.”

Recently, Ferguson and city leadership announced sweeping changes at the police department, including a pay package for officers and the reassignment of some administrative personnel to patrol duties.

“In some capacities, we’re actually going to be redeploying or shifting some of our personnel to patrol, temporarily, till we get through all of this,” Ferguson said.

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