Using 911 Calls for Service Data to Help Cities Evaluate First Responder Services

Do first responders’ services and scope of responsibilities align with community needs based on the types of calls for service coming to 911 centers? A newly launched study seeks to answer this question.

ARTICLE | Dec 30, 2020
by Monica Croskey Chaparro, City of Durham

Do first responders’ services and scope of responsibilities align with community needs based on the types of calls for service coming to 911 centers? A newly launched study seeks to answer this question. 

During 2020 there were passionate pleas and emphatic demands for local governments across the country to examine police operations within their jurisdictions. Local governments have responded in varying ways to reassure their communities that they are committed to ensuring public safety while meeting community goals and expectations.

In August 2020, the City of Durham invited RTI International, a non-profit research institute, and six other cities in North and South Carolina to embark upon a data-informed journey to evaluate community demand for public safety services and explore whether there are opportunities to improve how we respond to those needs. Participating cities in this study include Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Burlington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Rock Hill.

As part of the study, a systematic analysis of three years of 911 calls for service (CFS) data will be used to assess the nature of demand for law enforcement and other first responder resources, how resources are deployed to respond to that demand, and whether the responses are appropriately aligned with community needs.

There are four main phases of the study, which is currently in phase one:

  • Phase One – Data Analysis. This phase involves analyzing three years of 911 CFS data to understand call volume, type, response, and resolution. Additional quantitative and qualitative data sources will also be examined, including but not limited to focus groups with first responders and community stakeholder engagement. While data analysis is the focus of phase one, it will be iterative and ongoing throughout all phases.
  • Phase Two – Research Alternative Responses. RTI International is conducting research to identify potential alternative responses. This scan of literature and practice will focus on both past and present alternative responses and programs to inform potential alternative response interventions for participating cities to adapt to fit their community’s needs based on phase one data analysis and align with available city resources.
  • Phase Three – Pilot Alternative Responses. The participating cities will select and implement alternative response pilot(s). The timeframe for pilot implementation as well as the number and scope of pilots will vary by city.
  • Phase Four – Pilot Evaluation. RTI Institute will conduct rapid evaluations of alternative response interventions to assess their efficacy and allow for modifications to be made if needed.

Once the 18-month study is completed, the results and its standardized approach in analyzing 911 CFS data could then be used by other cities throughout the United States and abroad to help them determine if their resource allocations match what is needed in their specific communities.

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