Police in Austin, Texas, Stop Responding to Non-emergency Calls

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
October 1, 2021 Updated: October 1, 2021

Police officers in one of the largest cities in Texas are no longer responding to calls that are deemed non-emergencies as of Oct. 1.

In situations including when there is no immediate threat to life or property, residents and others in Austin are being told to submit a report online or call 311 because a call to 911 will not yield a response.

The change in policy stems from recommendations from the Reimagining 911 and Non-Police Crisis Response, interim Austin Chief of Police Joseph Chacon told a briefing this week. He also cited concerns about COVID-19 exposure for officers and the public, a lack of manpower due to challenges hiring enough officers, and a jump in 911 calls this year from previous years.

“A non-emergency is an incident in which the incident is no longer in progress, the suspect or the people involved are no longer on scene, and there is no further immediate threat to life or property,” Chacon said.

“If the call that you’re calling about does not meet all of that criteria, then we define that as an emergency call, that a call to 911 is appropriate,” he added.

Calls that won’t yield a police response provided they meet the criteria include those dealing with animals, attempted theft of property, burglaries at residences or businesses, and vehicular crashes if neither vehicle requires a tow and there are no injuries.

In some cases, civilian crime technicians may respond to collect evidence at the scene.

Those who call 311 are being told they’ll likely be put on hold for some time because the operation center is experiencing staffing issues as well. They can always go online and submit a report.

The 311 calls and online reports will be investigated down the line, if such an investigation is deemed appropriate, Chacon said.

“What I would say is that if a person is in doubt about whether it’s an emergency or not, then just call 911 and that is going to be the best way to make sure that you know. We will help you sort that out and and and get you pointed in the right direction,” he said.

The Austin Police Commission, which represents officers, did not respond to a request for comment. The office of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Darin Short, a North Carolina man, told KXAN-TV that his daughter and 12 friends were in Austin in September and called 911 when the rental property they were staying in was burglarized.

They were told to call 311, which later directed them to file an online report.

“No law enforcement official arrived at the location,” Short said.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.