(HELENA) The Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office have made changes to their phone systems, to help reduce the number of non-emergency calls going to the city-county 911 center.
This week, the two departments introduced a new automated phone tree. Callers to four administrative phone numbers – 442-3233, 442-7883, 447-8461 and 447-8293 – will now hear a recorded message. They will be asked to select the police department or sheriff’s office, then choose from a variety of options.
Previously, these phone lines connected directly to dispatchers at the 911 center, and they had to redirect any calls to the proper HPD or LCSO offices.
Callers can dial HPD directly at 457-8865, or LCSO at 447-8235. 911 calls will not be affected by the changes.
“What we’re trying to do is weed out the non-dispatch-related, non-public-safety-related calls and divert them to the correct office,” said 911 center manager Peter Callahan.
In 2018, the 911 center processed about 167,000 phone calls – about 100,000 of them inbound, non-emergency calls. Callahan said, especially during daytime hours, the volume of those calls could lead to long wait times.
“The general public who was calling in, looking for a little customer service on a non-emergent issue, was losing out,” he said. “We had to find a better way to do our work.”
Now, the phone tree will redirect callers to the correct office for some of the most common issues, such as questions on a concealed weapon permit, information on seized or recovered property and requests for police reports. Callers can still reach dispatchers to file a non-emergency criminal complaint.
Callahan said he knows people may have concerns about the changes.
“I understand sometimes the public may not be real receptive listening to a recorded message,” he said.
But he believes the new system will mean better service for the people who do speak to dispatchers.
“When they do talk to us, we can spend more time with them and sort through the questions and answers we need to get to,” he said.
The first of the four numbers was redirected to the phone tree on Monday, followed by another on Tuesday and the remaining two on Wednesday. Callahan said, in those three days, the system has already diverted about 200 non-emergency calls that would otherwise have gone to the 911 center.
“I’d just ask for the public’s patience and understanding as we go through this,” he said. “This is new for us, and it’s also a big cultural shift for the city and county. We welcome feedback any time.”