May 20, 2015 10:30 pm
Updated: May 21, 2015 10:22 am

Overuse of 911 service sometimes leads to delayed responses, say experts


WATCH: Although it’s rare, it’s possible that your 911 call won’t be answered right away. Cindy Pom explains why and what can be done to improve call response times

TORONTO – Sometimes calling 911 won’t guarantee an immediate repsonse and many who work with police forces say it’s due to an increase in use.

“I think this happens an awful lot. Sometimes people are on hold for more than a minute when they phone 911,” said John Sewell with the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.

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Sewell said part of the problem is that 911 is overused.

“The general position that police take is that if you have a call, phone 911, ” he said.

READ MORE: 911 calls sometimes not answered right away

Sewell believes restructuring the way police handle calls will help speed up the process.

“I think the best thing is for the police to start sorting out the system so you could phone the local (police) station and the local (police) station could authorize a car to be dispatched if that’s what you need.”

Others who work along side police say that demand for the service has also increased over the years.

“The call volume to first responders across the country is increasing dramatically,” said Cathy Palmer with The Canadian Association of Police Governance, a group consisting of police boards and commissions that provides civilian oversight of police forces across the country.

In 2008, 945,559 emergency calls were received by Toronto Police with 237 operators employed. In 2011,  1,150,857 were received with 231 operators employed, according to a statistical report published by Toronto Police Services.

“For the most part – we are adequately staffed,” said Tracy Finn, the 911 voice services coordinator for Toronto Police Services. “But we can’t anticipate when something major is going to happen that’s going to require people to wait in cue until we can clear that back log of calls,” she added.

Palmer believes a new approach to emergency responses can be an effective way to reduce the delay.

“One of the biggest things that’s happening is we’re standing back nationally and creating new models where other agencies are working in cooperation with police,” she said. “For example, a  mental health nurse, a police officer, perhaps a social worker might respond to a call and get them the support they require more quickly.”

Accidental calls also play a big role in delaying response. In 2011, 18 per cent of all emergency calls placed in Toronto were pocket dials.

WE WANT TO KNOW: How long have you had to wait for a 911 dispatcher to answer your call? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

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