Crime rates within the city of Atlanta have become an ongoing issue throughout the duration of the pandemic. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke earlier this summer about how COVID-19 is causing a spike in crime which the city hasn’t seen in decades.

With the increasing amount of 911 calls placed each day, Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) Emergency Communications Center is working to create solutions to improve efficiency in accommodating all calls in a timely manner.

It is important to note that there is currently no federal law that states when or how fast a 911 call should be answered.

“The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) standard is 90% of calls answered within 15 seconds. We are currently answering 87% of our calls within 15 seconds,” said Atlanta Police Department Officer TaSheena Brown.

“Our Emergency Communications Center plays an extremely important role in our public safety efforts throughout the city,” said Chata Spikes, Public City of Atlanta Police Department Public Affairs Director. “The job our Emergency Communications Officers do is a challenging one and we are grateful for their work.” 

Communication is the Key

Spikes said that the City of Atlanta recognized the role of the emergency communications center and approved significant pay raises for those officers in January. The raise was an effort to improve employee retention and increase hiring. 

She added, “For this year, we have hired 35 Emergency Communications Officers and the Center was approved for 18 new positions. These efforts were done to help improve the work environment of our employees and ensure they are meeting the ever increasing demand placed on our Emergency Communications Center.

“It is not uncommon for our agency to have training classes with multiple attendees. Our Center is one of few Emergency Communications Centers that operate with our own dedicated training unit,” said Brown. “This unit consists of 1 Training and Q.A. Manager, 4 Training Coordinator Assistants, and 3 Quality Services Specialists.”

The APD has 20 Senior Emergency Communications Officers that assist with both in class and on the job training, according to Brown. “We ensure that our Communications Officers are adequately prepared to efficiently process 911 calls,” she said. “By the time an employee is able to work independently, they have received 6 weeks of academic training, a minimum of 10 weeks on-the-job training, and they are Georgia POST Certified.”

Moreover, emergency personnel use a significant amount of their response time going to false alarm monitoring calls and these unnecessary responses reduce emergency unit availability to respond to real emergencies. Therefore, they are implementing a new program that will eliminate more than 50,000 calls each year. The program allows alarm monitoring companies to input alarm calls into their system without the need to call 911.

911 in a COVID World

As a result of the pandemic, APD has updated their health and safety protocols in efforts to keep their police officers, recruits and other employee personnel safe as possible.

“The Atlanta Police Training Academy have had to implement CDC guidelines and have contingencies just like everyone else. They do their best to keep the recruits as safe as possible.  Masks are worn when indoors, especially in close quarters like the classroom.  Temperature checks are done daily before training begins,” Brown said.

“During hands-on training, the recruits are partnered up with the same people to limit any exposure in the unlikely event someone is sick. They encourage vaccinations and healthy protocols on a day to day basis including hand sanitizing, hand washing, sanitizing the facility, mats and equipment,” Brown said.

Atlanta city officials have been working on implementing other initiatives that they believe will help decrease crime amid this COVID-19 crime wave.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said crime rates are increasing in the city, especially around property crime, but overall crime is still down 11% compared to 2019.

“We attribute this to our summer plan which allowed to expand our personnel into more targeted locations where we were seeing historical incidents of crime,” Bryant said, additionally, this is done with the partnership of our federal partners, our state partners, and our local partners.

Atlanta’s Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen has recently confirmed the city plans to update infrastructure with additional security cameras as part of Bottoms’ $70 million crime reduction plan proposed in July.

Furthermore, there are currently 154 employees in the APD Emergency Communications Center with 31 additional openings. Those openings include the 18 new positions recently approved. APD also currently has 5 officers that are out sick due to COVID-19.

A Team Effort

Aside from the actions on their part, APD also stresses the importance the public has on the efficiency of 911 call response times as well.

“We continuously say Public Safety is a team effort and we need the help of our communities in order to do our jobs. Our Emergency Communications Center is no different. Our Emergency Communications Officers experience pocket dials, people calling 911 for non-emergency issues, multiple people calling on one incident and people hanging up and calling back when their call isn’t immediately answered. We continue to urge everyone to be mindful of the issue of pocket dialing a 911 center,” Spikes said.

Spikes lists making sure your phone is locked properly when stored in your pocket, only calling 911 for public safety issues, and utilizing 311 for non-emergencies and non-police, fire or medical calls.

She added that if you call 911 and your call isn’t immediately answered, to stay on the line. Hanging up places your call at the bottom of the waiting list.