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Dear PoPville – 911 wait times in DC an issue?

by Prince Of Petworth December 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm 25 Comments

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“Dear PoPville,

I unfortunately had to call 911 a couple of days ago as a witness to violent altercation and had to wait about 3 minutes to get a 911 operator (was put on hold).

Any thoughts as to how to look into this issue that could be a matter of life and death for future 911 callers?”

Ed. Note: On the Office of Unified Communications website there is a 911 Customer Service Satisfaction Survey, unfortunately when I checked it this morning there was a The page cannot be found error message.

  • anonymous

    Unfortunately, I think this is common in DC. I’ve been placed on hold or the operator has taking his/her time to take down ALL the information (sometimes not going forward if I refuse to give my name) before sending someone out.

    • unitblockdc

      i would never give my name to a 911 operator.

      • gotryit

        why not?

        • #poor_people_problems

          Because “snitches get stitches” in many neighborhoods of DC. You don’t want to become a future victim of crime due to your name being associated with reporting the crime.

          • gotryit

            Other than open court, how does your name get reported? I don’t think that stuff gets made public until a trial.

          • Anonymous

            That’s risk enough for me. If the incident goes to trial, you get called as a witness in court. Then all his friends and family get to see you as the snitchin bitch who sent their son/brother/buddy to prison for 10-15. You think they’ll let that slide? “Oh well, he really shouldn’t have had that gun… She was just doing her civic duty, from her porch, three houses away from where it went down.”

          • Anonymous

            There’s corruption at many levels inside municipal governments. Names can be attained by a bribe to the right cop or 911 operator. There’s a lot of people on the take in any city, including DC.

          • Ally

            Come on….I have been a DC resident for nearly 20 years…have reported numerous offenses…and have served on a grand jury. Not saying names never get reported, but that they usually don’t need to, there are ways around this…and, more importantly…come on…protect your fellow neighbors if it comes down to it. I would rather risk my life than have assholes in my neighborhood think they can push me and my family and friends around with no repercussions.

        • unitblockdc

          because of my experiences being a witness in DC court.

    • Maire

      The call-taker you are speaking to is typing on a computer and those messages are being received by a second person who is in contact with the police. So as you are providing information it is being relayed to the police. As you answer additional questions the police are being updated. It happens simultaneously, not at the end of your call. This is a common misconception about how 911 works. Now, some amount of information has to be relayed before it can be meaningfully classified and the proper resources dispatched, but generally speaking the police are on their way as you are talking to the call-taker.

      You do not need to give your name but it’s helpful to give your callback number in case the officer on the scene needs to talk to you, in case they get there and can’t find anything they can call you back and get more information.

  • The Dude

    I’ve called 911 a few times – They talk for about 15 seconds before even asking you what your emergency is. I find this spectacularly dumb. “911, Operator number XXXXX, District XXXX, etc.”

    • Jen Jen

      They’re identifiers. The calls are being recorded in case there are any issues later.

      • The Dude

        I know, but isn’t there a way to do that without taking precious time from the beginning of the call? Or is it just old technology? Perhaps I shouldn’t have called it dumb, but still…

        • billionbucks

          I agree it takes up a few seconds, but since the calls are being recorded for good reason, I don’t mind it.

  • Anonymous

    This, my neighbors, is but one reason why you DO NOT want to re-elect Vince Gray. Many essential city services have suffered under his leadership.

    • Anonymous


  • Joe Shmoe

    That’s impressive that you managed to get a Windows Internet Explorer issue in Mac Firefox…

    • Bobo

      That’s because DC is using Microsoft IIS as their server, not because of the browser being used.

  • dat

    i have called half a dozen times over the past 8 years or so and don’t recall ever having to wait more than a few seconds.

  • jonah

    Don’t have any advice on getting through faster unfortunately. If your phone will let you mutli task you can also text them at 50411. That is also a good number to have on hand in case you want to report something but don’t want to leave your name, of course they have your number, or are unable to make a call but can discreetly text the police.

    • textdoc

      My understanding was that the text option takes longer for them to process and shouldn’t be used in an emergency. (I think this came up on a previous PoPville thread… will see if I can find it.)

  • skellie

    Two years ago, my husband and I were jumped. I called 911 and was immediately placed on hold…like literally dialed 911 and “please hold” as soon as someone answered..

  • anon

    I also had a seemingly long wait time after witnessing an accident downtown a while back. Call 311 and ask the operator to put you in contact with a rep form the Office of Unified Communication. I spoke with a Ms. Gattison after my incident. It’s important to document this sort of thing. Good luck.

  • Alan

    Sadly, I was put on hold hile making a 911 call for a at least two minutes. This is a startling thing to experience given that it could have been homicide or rape or something as bad. Disconcerting to see this happen in DC.

  • billionbucks

    I’ve had to call 911 several times since living in the city (I live in NE, but I can’t completely blame my neighborhood) … I’ve only been placed on hold once, but I agree it was very annoying and concerning. Thankfully I wasn’t calling for a life-threatening emergency. They should definitely find a way to minimize wait time.


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