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The next steps in curtailing calls for service

The establishment of Law Enforcement Alternative Report Call Centers would allow LEOs to respond to essential calls for service while civilian personnel address calls from the community

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Law Enforcement Alternative Report Call Centers would allow LEOs to concentrate on essential calls for service, while civilian personnel address calls from the community.


The COVID-19 pandemic will be a tipping point in the future of face-to-face elements of traditional policing. This is not necessarily a negative consequence.

The policing profession has already been confronted with challenges in recruiting new candidates to replace departments ravaged by personnel attrition. The current crisis will undoubtedly impact the future of agency funding as well.

In this confluence of attrition, the impact of COVID-19 and diminished resources, police leaders have to decide between strategic immediate and long-term solutions or hope that things get better in time. Hope is never the best strategy.

Law Enforcement Alternative Report Call Centers

As civilian staffing is usually only a fraction of a law enforcement agency’s workforce, now may be the time to streamline operations and include civilian staffing as an essential function in bridging gaps in the law enforcement mission. This can be done to enhance police services and transition some traditional calls for service to literally that, a “call for service.” Please bear in mind, this idea is to support the law enforcement mission, not supplant it.

The establishment of Law Enforcement Alternative Report Call Centers (LEARCC) would allow law enforcement officers to concentrate on essential calls for service (CFS), while civilian personnel address calls from the community.

During the last recession in 2008, departments streamlined calls to exclude multiple calls to false alarms and similar disturbances that did not require a follow-up response. Some departments moved to electronic report generating systems where citizens went online to generate their own reports with a police supervisor approving the reports and replying with an incident number for records or insurance claim follow up.

Technology advancements over just the past decade have made it possible for anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer to contact their LE agency through Facetime, Skype, Zoom and other applications. Agencies wishing for stronger security may go to a closed-circuit system in the lobby of a police station or other government building or by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that may transmit directly to the LEARCC.

the Benefits of call centers

The immediate benefit of such an approach during this pandemic is that it reduces unnecessary person-to-person contacts. Here are some additional benefits to consider:

  • Virtual reporting enables LE personnel to respond to more urgent calls for service that require capturing a criminal, providing assistance, rendering aid, or providing quality investigative follow up to crimes that merit attention.
  • This approach would allow more time for proactive policing. LE personnel would be free to participate in hot-spot policing, targeted enforcement strategies, predictive policing and other crime mapping-directed patrol.
  • Today’s police officers are asked to perform a variety of services well beyond law enforcement guidelines, including social services, care of the mentally ill, reviving drug abusers with naloxone and more. For non-emergency calls placed to the LEARCC, it may be determined that a more appropriate response should come from another department such as fire, public health, EMS or an agency not requiring a police response. This would add in reducing the “mission creep” we currently see in policing.

Cost Savings of call centers

This approach would enable agencies to hire retirees, civilians with adequate training, CERT-type volunteer groups, college students, ADA-related personnel and anyone with approved remote access. As civilians cost less to hire, an added benefit may be the end of the call for pension reform for sworn police officers.

In areas with multiple smaller agencies, regional call centers could be created for multiple departments to share resources.

Costs could also be shared by placing call takers in one large operations center with shared servers and resources or, reduce brick and mortar facility costs by allowing remote site access to the system. Allowing call takers and report takers to work from home offices would reduce costs significantly.

Fast-tracked training and set-up should receive support and funding from law enforcement government resources such as the Department of Justice.

What calls for service should be considered?

Examples of calls that could be directed to a LEARCC include:

  • Calls made to report incidents only to document them (for insurance or replacement claims).
  • Non-injury vehicle collisions.
  • Property-related thefts with no suspects and little or no evidence to be documented or collected.
  • Suspicious occurrences not requiring investigation or follow up.
  • Non-police related incidents (animal-related issues, for example).
  • These may also be calls for service that document a crime issue such as graffiti or illegal dumping where the report is made and the appropriate non-police department is contacted for follow up (Parks Department, Public Works, etc.).

“Gray area” calls for service

For calls that are not clearly defined as requiring police response, allow the caller to interact with the responding officer(s) or a sergeant by video access while proceeding to the call, if possible and appropriate. This would give responding officers a peek at the situation and layout before arrival at a developing scene.

For gray areas that may require a live officer on scene, but without an immediate response, an appointment may be made for response at lower call volume times and at the convenience of the caller.

Calls clearly requiring a live police response (crimes of violence, in-progress crime, calls involving children and the elderly or mentally compromised, for example) should not be screened by the LEARCC.

Unintended Consequences

A paradigm shift is required for agencies to consider such a departure from the traditional policing response. Some will see the idea of reducing calls for service as heresy. Indeed, caution must be used in reducing calls for service merely to relieve sworn officers from going from call to call to call. If not done correctly, police will revert to only showing up at scenes to make an arrest, or physically intervene in conflict situations.

Community policing efforts should not be lost in any attempts to bridge the personnel shortage. The tenets of policing icons Sir Robert Peel, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling should be followed as well. Foot beats, traffic units, school resource officers and other specialized units that put officers in contact with the community daily must be fully staffed, with appropriate health precautions in place.

The troops and unions may require some convincing. Some may fear the loss of job security and full staffing and contingency staffing in the event of a major incident calling for a sufficient physical response. Clearly, stakeholders must be present at the policy level in determining safe minimum staffing at each individual agency. Union leaders and line officers should participate in determining safety issues in light of the impact we have seen thus far on departments impacted by COVID-19.

Still, we are at a recruiting crossroads, so now may be a good time to begin the transition to eliminating non-police calls for service. There are additional benefits to the country as a whole with creating the new call system during the recovery from this pandemic threat and its collateral impact on employment and the economy.

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.