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Calling the Cops - Police Telephone Operators and Citizen Calls for Service

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 9 Issue: 2 Dated: (1981) Pages: 165-180
Date Published
16 pages
This article analyzes data on citizen requests and operator responses coded from a sample of over 26,000 phone calls to police in 21 jurisdictions in 3 metropolitan areas.
Data were gathered during the summer of 1977 as part of a study of police patrol and referral practices in the Rochester, N.Y., St. Louis, Mo., and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., areas. The study was concentrated in 24 departments serving 60 neighborhoods across the 3 areas. Observers recorded data from incoming citizen calls during at least 15 patrol shifts in 21 of the 24 departments. Shifts from each day of the week and from all times of the day were observed. Observers coded calls from a list of 236 distinct codes according to the problems reported by citizens. These codes were then combined into 12 general categories. More than one-fifth of the calls were requests for information. Other major categories concerned nuisance abatement, traffic problems, or the regulation of interpersonal disputes. Only 20 percent of the calls involved predatory crime of any type. The typical operator response to the calls was to promise the dispatch of a patrol unit, although this varied by problem type and by the apparent seriousness of the call. Complaint operators seemed to follow a decision rule that a patrol unit would always be sent to the scene except in those situations where it was clear none was needed. The article concludes with a discussion of the possible impact of operator demeanor on police-community relations. Tables, notes, and about 30 references are included. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1981