An Analysis of 911-Initiated Calls for Service in Saint Paul, Minnesota
In late 2020, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter established the Community-First Public Safety Commission and charged the group with focusing on alternative first-response options to priority four and priority five calls for service, and approaches for ongoing community involvement in the city’s Community-First Public Safety Plan.
To aid police officer responses to calls for service, each call is given a priority level. The priority level helps an officer determine the “priority” of a call and how quickly they need to arrive on the scene. St. Paul Police calls are divided into five priorities. The St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) identifies priority one and two calls as an emergency, priority three as urgent, and priority four and five as routine calls. Of important note, the priority levels are a triage of sorts in that they assist officers in determining the priority or order in which they should respond to calls. These priority levels do not necessarily signal much about the offense type or seriousness of the offense. For example, calls relating to domestic assault could be in priority two as well as in priority five. The urgency of the call is determined by other information gathered by the 911 operator (i.e., the suspect is still on the scene, crime in progress, no injuries). See Saint Paul radio call priorities for more information.
The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice was engaged to assist in analyzing these calls for service to determine if patterns could be found in the types and frequency of calls that might be informative to the Commission as they engaged in their work. Robina was requested to analyze only priority four and five calls because these were assumed to be less serious instances for which it might be possible to identify other potential responses (i.e., social service, mental health agency). However, we determined we needed to analyze all priority level calls to understand the range of calls within the city as well as to compare various variables among the calls. If we limited the analysis to only priority four and five calls, it would be difficult to understand the full scope of calls for service.
Calls for service in the context of this report includes multiple ways in which officers are “called” to or dispatched to respond to a situation. In the data this includes a 911 emergency call, a call to a non-emergency line, online reporting (through a website), through an alarm being triggered or call from an alarm company, or teleserve, which is a call directly to an officer received by phone. Calls may also be officer-initiated. An officer-initiated call could occur in different ways. It could occur when officers see an incident or violation and then initiates the contact. A traffic stop is an example of this as well. It could also occur if an individual flags down an officer for assistance or to report a crime. This report examines calls for service in three different ways: 1) all call types as mentioned above, 2) emergency only calls, and 3) officer-initiated calls only. We analyze this data by priority level, incident types, response times, dispositions, and neighborhood.