May 7, 2014 8:04 pm

Possible changes coming to 911: Edmonton police chief

Edmonton Police Service considering possible changes to 911.

EDMONTON – Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht met with members of the media on Wednesday to discuss a variety of topics, notably possible changes coming to 911.

The number of 911 calls are rising, and Knecht said the police were behind by up to 40 calls last weekend, leading to longer response times.

To combat the rising number of calls, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is hiring approximately 30 more communications staff to answer the phones. The EPS is also looking into new technology to ease the burden.

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“We’re looking at new technology that will help us screen calls,” Knecht told Global News.

“If people call accidentally and don’t need 911, they’ll have the option to push 1, push 2, push 3, just like any other business.”

Currently there is no option to cancel a call without staying on the line, and even though people hang up quickly, police still need to verify no crime was committed before they can move on.

Prank calls also add to the backlog of calls. The Emergency 911 Act came in to effect on April 1, and allows for a fine of $5,000 on a first offence, and $10,000 for repeat offenders.

Last month a SWAT team was called to an Edmonton home in the early hours of the morning after a fake call to 911 claiming there was a violent crime with the potential for another.

The family, who did not want to be named, believe they were victims of ‘swatting,’ a disturbing new prank that aims to have as many police as possible sent to an unsuspecting home.

READ MORE: Family in southeast Edmonton the the victim of frightening swatting prank 

The prank often occurs in the online video gaming community. If the person is caught, they face a charge of public mischief and a possible jail sentence.

Knecht also covered some other topics:

-          The chief wants the penalty for distracted driving to include demerit points, saying, “it’s very prevalent. The $172 fine isn’t changing behavior at all and I’m of the view demerits would probably change behavior.”

-          Regarding police disclosure of information to the public, Knecht told Global News the EPS wants to disclose as much as they can safely, only holding back information that could affect the investigation. He cited the HUB Mall shooting as an example of the police giving the public as much information as they could, which led to a quick capture of the suspect.

-          Knecht also touched on domestic violence, saying it is a difficult crime to prevent, and the police end up reacting to it. He told Global News that when it comes to domestic violence, the EPS does not allow for much discretion when it comes to laying charges.

-          The EPS is aggressively recruiting, visiting high schools and universities, holding job fairs, and even going across Canada to look for new blood. Knecht says the EPS has been to Vancouver, Ottawa, Kingston, and will be going to PEI soon. He also says that many jurisdictions across Canada are not hiring, which should lead candidates to look to EPS and its need  to grow.

-          Knecht praised Edmontonians for the rise in community engagement, saying the increase in anonymous tips is a sign of Edmontonians taking ownership in their community. He says even small pieces of information, such as partial license plates or a first name, have led to arrests in many cases, even homicides.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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