May 4, 1999
Contact: Carey Hoffman
Cincinnati --When Hamilton County voters head to the ballot box this week and weigh in with their opinions on whether to support a tax increase for emergency communications, they can take some solace in the knowledge that they are not alone.
Communications across the country are feeling the impact of the communications revolution, says Lorraine Green Mazerolle, principal investigator for a new $400,000 federal study based out of the University of Cincinnati that will look at one aspect of the problem, overburdened 911 services.
"Communications are the cornerstone of our society in this day and age," Mazerolle says. "The hard part (for local governments) is that technology has gone ahead so fast in the last 10 years and will go ahead even faster in the next 10. We, as citizens, need to get used to the idea that communication systems need to upgrade every few years."
Mazerolle and a research team of six others -- including co-principal investigators John Eck, James Frank and Dennis Rogan, and field research coordinator Christine Famega, all from UC -- are examining current 911 alternatives and evaluating their impacts in the cities of Baltimore, Dallas, Phoenix and Buffalo, N.Y., with particular attention as to how they relate to police operations.
In its 30 years of existence, the emergency 911 response system has gained status as an instantly indentifiable national standard. But with 911 systems overwhelmed in many communities by non-emergency calls, some emergency communications planners believe it's time to take the next logical step to a non- emergency number -- a call that was seconded by President Bill Clinton when he issued a directive to develop a national phone number to help alleviate 911 backups due to non-emergency calls.
Many cities are considering the pros and cons of a 311 phone number. Eight cities recently received federal funding to implement 311 systems, while Cincinnati City Council recommended moving to such a system last year.
"These programs have become very popular because 911 is so overwhelmed in so many cities," said Mazeroole, assistant professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research at UC. "We want to provide the law enforcement community with a well-researched study to help in their deliberations to adopt non-emergency call systems."
The study will analyze and compare each of the four cities' systems and how they have affected those cities' police departments. Each city's system has unique aspects. For instance, Baltimore and Dallas are promoting the 311 number for non-emergency police service, while Buffalo and Phoenix are promoting conventional seven-digit local numbers. Baltimore and Dallas have a key difference however, in that Baltimore's system goal was to divert non-emergency calls from 911, while the Dallas goal was to route requests from all non-emergency city services through a central line better suited to providing timely customer service.
The City of Cincinnati's proposed 311 system is patterned after the Dallas model. While the faculty on the UC study are not formally studying Cincinnati's plan, they have been informally advising city administrators.
The federal government's National Institute of Justice is the
sponsoring agency for the 18-month, $400,000 study, which should
conclude sometime around June, 2000.