UMPD to answer U’s 911 calls

by Matthew Gruchow

New dispatching equipment now allows the University Police Department to receive all 911 calls made from campus, the department announced Jan. 6.

The new system lets University police dispatchers answer emergency calls from campus buildings, pay phones and Nextel cell phones, according to a police department statement.

Previously, calls placed from phones not on the University phone system were answered by St. Paul or Minneapolis police dispatchers and then directed to campus officers, said Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department.

“For years, it was one of my pet peeves that if you picked up the pay phone in the lobby of our office (and dialed 911) you got Minneapolis,” Johnson said.

In coming weeks, more cell phone companies will be connected with the new emergency system, Johnson said.

Dispatchers will soon be able to get a caller’s general location through the satellite positioning devices in some phones, Johnson said.

The information will not pin-point a location in a building but will give officers an area to search, he said.

“We’ll know where they are calling from, so even if they’re interrupted, we’ll know where they’re at,” Johnson said.

The University has worked for more than a year to get the new technology, said Lori-Anne Williams, University Services communications director.

“It’s really going to make a difference in our response time and in our ability to enhance public safety overall,” Williams said. “Just knowing that when you pick up the phone the closest possible dispatcher is going to pick it up is always a good feeling.”

The new equipment will be the only digital 911 technology in the metro area, said Chuck Steier, University police 911 center supervisor.

The digital equipment significantly reduces the time for an emergency call to connect with a dispatcher, he said.

“It’s a one-second answer versus a 10- or 12-second answer,” Steier said. “With the old system, you had to wait 10 or 12 seconds before you got a ring.”

A $150,000 grant from the Public Safety Foundation of America helped pay for the upgrade, he said.

The entire cost of the project was $184,193, with additional money coming from state 911 funds, Steier said.