June 24, 2014 1:29 pm
Updated: June 24, 2014 8:35 pm

Edmonton resident’s perseverance creates change to 911 calls

Above: Last year, Cheryl Schneider waited an hour for police to respond to a 911 call. Now, she says Edmonton police are making changes to 911 responses. Fletcher Kent reports.

EDMONTON – An Edmonton woman’s determination has helped to make changes to 911 response times.

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After nearly a year of meetings, mediation, personal investigation with Edmonton police officials, as well as a discussion with Deputy Police Chief Danielle Campbell, Cheryl Schneider says two changes are being made to the 911 response department: The word “priority” will be phased out, and callers will be provided with an estimated time of arrival, along with a phone call if that time changes.

Last July, Schneider’s fitness class was disrupted at the North Millbourne Community League in Mill Woods when two men who appeared to be drunk walked into the facility.

The pair left, but soon returned, banging on the locked door and screaming. Schneider and the seven students barricaded the door, but felt trapped and scared.

She called 911 repeatedly, until police arrived nearly an hour later.

The fitness instructor says, had she known that police would take nearly an hour to arrive on scene, she would have taken a different course of action.

“We knew that these two gentlemen…or two drunken men were obsessing. We knew that if we could distract them, it would have made the difference, and so, we would have phoned for help from friends and family, just to drive-by and honk their horns,” explains Schneider.

“Every solution we had I was the one that said ‘The police are on their way. We don’t have to do anything,’ and that will always haunt me because I was trying to convince [them] and yet I convinced six people to just hang in there.”

READ MORE: Edmonton woman questions police response time 

Schneider wanted to know why it took so long for police to arrive, so she performed a freedom of information request on police response times.

She found a bigger issue with priority one calls. Police met their response time targets seven per cent less often than in 2011, despite receiving fewer priority one calls.

Acting Chief Brian Simpson blamed the numbers on an increase on non-urgent calls.

“A year ago I was heartbroken and I was very frustrated,” recalls Schneider. “And [I] thought, here’s this system, this system. And certainly I heard the words, ‘Cheryl, you’re not going to make a difference. Save your breath.'”

Schneider admits the system is still not ideal, but it is an improvement.

“To know that there is now a system in place that knows that you’re there, that understands that you’re there and they’re going to come eventually and help is absolutely somewhat calming.”

Schneider says she’s been told of other plans to improve response times, like hiring new staff to evaluate 911 calls, and increasing space at the existing location to improve working conditions.

In an email late Tuesday afternoon, Inspector Erik Johnson of the Edmonton Police Service says the plans to rejuvenate the Police Communications Branch “have been well under way for the last two years, prior to Ms. Schneider lodging her complaint with EPS.

“New equipment has been purchased, technology is being upgraded, new staffing plans are in place, and the space currently occupied by Police Communications Branch is being significantly expanded. The EPS shares Cheryl Schneider’s enthusiasm for the changes coming to Police Communications Branch in the near future.”

The Edmonton Police Service is also starting interim plans for a temporary Northwest Division to be open at the start of 2015, rather than waiting until 2017 for the new building to be constructed.

Police hope the move distributes the workload more evenly reducing response times.

“To me that just screams here’s a system, here’s the EPS that is listening, that understands, that holds it as a priority,” says Schneider.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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