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When to Call 911: Emergencies vs. Non-Emergencies

Post originally published on April 13, 2015. Updated April 10, 2018 to reflect the addition of the 311 Non-Emergency number for cell phones.

In response to many people who have asked when to call 911 vs. when to call the non-emergency line, we hope this post from the Speedway Police Department will offer some guidance and clarification. As of April 9, 2018, Marion County has implemented a non-emergency phone system for cell phones, where residents can cell 311. For those on a land line, continue to use the SPD non-emergency number of (317) 246-4300, which also can be found on the right sidebar of this site.

What is an Emergency?

An “emergency” is an event that poses immediate, significant threat to life and/or property. The following are examples of an emergency:

  • A request for medical assistance
  • A person threatening to harm themselves or others
  • A noise from the next dorm room or apartment that sounds like a violent physical encounter.
  • A crime in progress
  • A situation which requires a police officer at the scene (e.g. assaults, kidnappings, burglaries, domestic disputes, terrorist threats, robberies, vehicle theft that has just occurred, vehicle or hit and run accidents with known or suspected injuries, gang related disturbance calls or any disturbance call involving a weapon, etc.)
  • Fire, hazardous chemical spill, smoke in your house or building, sparking electrical hazards, or fire/smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarms are sounding
  • Suspicious criminal activity (e.g. alarms, shots fired, shouts for help, and sounds of breaking glass, unfamiliar person carrying items dorm room or apartment, an occupied suspicious vehicle)
  • If the situation changes before help arrives, call 9-1-1 again and give the call taker the updated information

Examples of Non-Emergency Calls

  • Directions
  • Lost or stolen property
  • To determine if someone has been arrested
  • Non-injury traffic accidents. If you are unsure of injuries it can be considered an emergency call
  • Loud music or loud party complaints, barking dogs
  • Juvenile complaints of a non-threatening nature such as skateboarding, or loitering
  • Parking complaints
  • Abandoned vehicles, unless suspected stolen
  • Delayed reports

When You Call 9-1-1 (Items You May Be Asked to Provide)

  • Briefly explain the nature of your emergency or complaint
  • Your name, address and telephone number
  • Location (the address where the incident is occurring)
    • The location of occurrence is so the police know where to send the help. That might be the first question a dispatcher or call taker will ask you. WHY? If the call is disconnected, or there is a phone problem, the location of the incident is the minimum amount of information needed to send help. Since the address has such great importance, please be sure to give a full description of your location. For example: Provide the building or apartment name and room number or where you are in the building; or Indy 500 Track.
    • If outside, provide a description of where you are. Be specific. For example, if you are at the track, state you are near the front entrance of turn #4, in the back of the restrooms.
    • If you are driving to your destination, and calling about something you saw on the way, provide the closest cross streets to the incident occurrence. For example, Crawfordsville and Cunningham.
    • Once an officer arrives at the location originally provided, it is not uncommon for the situation or location to have changed.  The police department will often use your location as a starting point to search for what you reported. If the officer is unable to find anything, they may respond back to your address and talk to you for additional information, but only if you want contact.
  • Once the police department has the very basic information they need to send help, the dispatcher will start asking more questions, such as:
    • Who caused the problem, when the incident occurred?
    • Why do you think the situation happened?

Time from the Incident to Your Call

If the problem you are reporting just occurred (or 5 -10 minutes before you called), the questions the police department asks will be different then if the situation occurred the night before. The next set of questions the police department asks may be about the person you think is responsible for causing the problem or the situation.

How to Describe a Person or Suspect

When providing a suspect description to an officer, describe that person in a certain manner. Start from the top of their head and work down to the toes. For example: White male adult about 5’ feet 7” tall, blond hair, blue eyes, with a mustache and goatee.

For the clothing description, start from the outside and move in towards the body from the top of the head and moving down to the toes. For example:
The subject is wearing a New York Yankees hat, red jacket, blue flannel shirt with a white t-shirt underneath, black belt with silver type belt buckle, blue jeans and sneakers.

Information Needed if a Vehicle was Involved

How would one give information to the dispatcher or call taker if a vehicle was involved? There are certain questions asked, and in a certain order for a vehicle description. The reason dispatchers ask these questions in this way is because the officer responding to the call may spot a similar vehicle on the way to your call, the same color or year or the same make or body style. If possible, provide the license plate number too.

Here is a list of questions the dispatcher or call taker may ask about the description of a vehicle:

  • License Plate
  • Color
  • Year
  • Make
  • Body Style

The Speedway Police Department encourages you to call if you feel something is suspicious or potentially warrants their attention. They are more than happy to patrol any areas necessary to help identify or deter any potential dangers. If you feel something to be suspicious NEVER hesitate to call the department. We hope this guide helps direct you to emergency vs. non-emergency lines – thank you!

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