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Grand Forks region sees rise in number of 911 calls

The number of 911 calls made in Grand Forks County increased significantly in 2012, but local safety officials say they can't put their finger on the reason.

911 Call statistics

The number of 911 calls made in Grand Forks County increased significantly in 2012, but local safety officials say they can't put their finger on the reason.

In 2011, the center received 24,595 emergency calls. This year, that number increased to 41,332, a jump of 68 percent.

"We've been talking to the dispatchers, and everyone is busier," said Becky Ault, director of the county Public Safety Answering Point. The PSAP serves as the communication link by directing emergency and non-emergency calls for 33 agencies in northeast North Dakota.

The number of calls for service coming through the center increased as well. These are non-emergency calls such as request for information or report of a loose dog. In 2011 there were 67,517; in 2012 there were 75,913.

In all, the PSAP handled 125,284 phone calls in 2012, including calls that don't fall into either category.

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The reason for the increases could be tied to the cell phone use of area residents and those traveling through the region, according to Ault.

Possible causes

While there isn't a definite reason for the upsurge in calls, local officials have theories.

Ault said often times multiple people will call in the same incident.

Thanks to cell phones, these passersby can make 911 calls instantly instead of driving to a landline.

"We sometimes have three or four people or more calling in the same car accident," Ault said.

Another possibility is incidents that may have gone unreported in the past are being called in, according to Grand Forks County Sherriff Bob Rost.

"More people are not willing to put up with things that they see," he said Friday. "We get calls coming in all day. This morning someone called in a child in a car without a seatbelt."

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Police Capt. Mike Kirby said the ease of contacting police through dialing 911 also could be a component. "It's easier to dial 911 than it is the full police number."

A rise in crime also seems like a possible explanation. The police department and the sheriff's office did not record an uptick in overall crime rates in 2012 -- though numbers for some individual crimes did increase.

Evolving tech

The PSAP has seen an increase in cell phone calls over the past several years, according to Ault.

Calls from mobile phones constitute 78 percent of the emergency calls the center received in 2012, with the remaining calls coming from residences, businesses, pay phones and other sources.

In 2007, the number of 911 calls the PSAP received from cell phones was around 60 percent.

Ault said she expects this trend to continue as call volumes have already broken records this year.

The center could receive even more messages if users were able to report an emergency to staff through a text message.

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"There's an expectation from cell phone users that we accommodate that," Ault said. Right now, you can't send an emergency text to center staff, but it may be possible in the future.

That service is only available in a very small portion of the United States, she said. But one day, she said, 911 centers will be able to receive reports of emergencies through not only text messages but picture and video as well.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: POLICE
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