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Ask the Chief: Know when and why to dial 911

"Ask The Chief" allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

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Q: When should a person use the non-emergency phone to contact police instead of calling 911?

A: Residents who do not have an emergency, want to report previous criminal activity, or wish to have a situation checked on (suspicious activity) should call 651-385-3155 (24-hour non-emergency dispatch number). If you want general information, follow-ups or to schedule community policing and crime prevention events, you may call 651-267-2600 during normal business hours.

The background on 911: The three-digit telephone number "9-1-1" is designated as the "Universal Emergency Number," for citizens throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number and gives the public fast and easy access to a Public Safety responders.

Dial 911 only for an emergency. An emergency is any serious medical problem (chest pain, seizure, bleeding), any type of fire (business, car, building), or any life-threatening situation (fights, a person with weapons, etc.). Use 911 to report crimes in progress, whether or not a life is threatened.


Accidental 911 calls cause problems for the public safety community, which takes time and resources to determine whether a 911 call is real or accidental. A 911 operator must stay on the line to make this determination. If no one is on the line, the operator may need to disconnect the call and call the user back to determine whether the call is real or accidental. If no one answers, the operator may spend even more time trying to reach the caller, or even dispatch emergency services to help check on the caller.

These efforts waste resources and divert scarce public safety personnel from other 911 calls reporting real emergencies.

You can help reduce accidental 911 calls by locking keypads using the keypad lock feature. Keypad locks, some of which can be programmed to activate automatically, prevent a phone from responding to keystrokes until you unlock the keypad using a short combination of key presses.

If you dialed 911 in error, do not hang up the telephone. Instead, stay on the line and explain to the dispatcher that you dialed by mistake and that you do not have an emergency. If you hang up, a dispatcher will call back to confirm that there is no emergency. If you don't answer, a police officer must be dispatched to confirm that you are OK. This will needlessly take resources away from genuine emergencies.


Be prepared to describe your location and the location of the emergency. Although an Enhanced 911 system will display your telephone number and location, the dispatcher must confirm the displayed address or may ask you for more specific location or information about the victim or suspects. If you are calling from a cellular phone, your telephone number and location will not be displayed for the dispatcher's reference. You must be able to describe your location so emergency units can respond.

Be aware of your current city or town, address, highway, and direction, nearby cross streets, or other geographic points of reference. Cellular 911 calls are frequently routed to a central PSAP (dispatch) that could be many miles from your location. Be prepared to give the dispatcher your complete location — district, city or town, address or location, inside or outside, what floor or room, etc.

Be prepared to describe any vehicles involved in the incident. This includes the color, year, make, model and type of vehicle (sedan, pickup, sports utility, van, tanker truck, flatbed, etc.). If the vehicle is parked the dispatcher will need to know the direction it's facing. If the vehicle is moving or has left, the dispatcher will need to know the last direction.

Briefly, describe the type of incident you are reporting. For example, "I'm reporting a car fire," or "I'm reporting an unconscious person," or "I'm reporting a shoplifter." Then stay on the line with the dispatcher — do not hang up until the dispatcher tells you to. In some cases, the dispatcher will keep you on the line while the emergency units are responding to ask additional questions or to obtain ongoing information.

Be patient as the dispatcher asks you questions. While you are answering the dispatcher's questions, he or she is entering or writing down the information. If you are reporting an emergency, most likely a response is being made while you are still on the line with the dispatcher.

​Numbers to keep handy

Red Wing Police Department 

24-hour non-emergency number at 651-385-3155.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources


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