Crime Reporting Systems (File No. 031412)

OLA#: 028-03


TO: Honorable Members of the Board of Supervisors

FROM: Anthony Ababon, with Adam Van de Water

DATE: February 24, 2004

SUBJECT: Crime Reporting Systems (File No. 031412)

Summary Of Requested Action

A motion (sponsored by Supervisor Maxwell) requested that the Office of the Legislative Analyst (OLA) research and examine the San Francisco Police Department's crime reporting system with an emphasis on the following questions: How effective is the current system compared to cities similar to San Francisco? What mechanisms are available for San Francisco residents to report crime? How is the information gathered and used? How can the city improve the current reporting system and make better use of the information gathered?

Executive Summary

The San Francisco Emergency Communications Department's (ECD) 9-1-1 system handles all emergency and the majority of non-emergency calls for San Francisco including low priority, non-emergency calls needing the dispatch of an officer to the crime scene. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) also maintains a specialized unit to handle crime reports over the phone.

However, since its adoption as the universal nationwide number for reporting emergencies, the 9-1-1 system has been overburdened with calls for non-emergency services. This appears to be particularly true in San Francisco where fully 55 percent of all 9-1-1 calls are estimated to be non-emergencies: a figure several times that of other surveyed jurisdictions.

The OLA researched alternatives to the reporting system in San Jose, Chicago and Philadelphia that may improve the delivery of non-emergency services to the public. These alternatives to the emergency 9-1-1 system include:

Utilizing a 3-1-1 number for non-emergency police services and/or city services.

Increasing public awareness and utilization of the existing police department's 7-digit non-emergency phone system through marketing and/or public education campaigns.

Establishing an on-line "cold reporting" system for minor crimes and misdemeanors not requiring police dispatch or investigation or for communicating recurring complaints and nuisances to the police department.

The OLA recommends that the Board urge the SFPD to implement a non-emergency online reporting system and improve public awareness of the 7-digit non-emergency number through increased visibility and public education.

These options have the potential to reduce the public's dependence on the 9-1-1 system for reporting non-emergencies and the SFPD's dependence on the dispatching of patrol units as 9-1-1 calls are received. An online reporting system will help the SFPD to process non-emergency service requests electronically and plan an appropriate strategy for such requests at the district level.


California Government Code Section 53100, known as the Warren-911-Emergency Assistance Act, established the 9-1-1 number as the primary emergency telephone number. Over time, the effectiveness of the 9-1-1 number has been constrained because many non-emergency calls that do not require an emergency response are placed to the 9-1-1 number. Moreover, many jurisdictions have recognized the need to improve how the police departments receive requests for and deliver non-emergency services.

Some jurisdictions have implemented a 3-1-1 or similarly memorable 7-digit non-emergency phone number often combined with an online reporting system in order to:

reduce the call answer time for callers requesting emergency services and diverting non-emergency requests to another number,

reduce the call answer time for callers requesting police and city non-emergency services,

enable police officers to dedicate more time engaging in proactive police work and community policing rather than responding to non-emergency service requests from the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system, and

reduce the amount of time, energy, and resources spent handling the processing of non-emergency crime reports.

Current Practice In San Francisco

The City's 9-1-1 emergency number operated by the Emergency Communications Department (ECD) currently serves as the first point of contact for emergency and a large portion of non-emergency calls for police, fire, and medical services. Calls received by a 9-1-1 call taker/dispatcher that require a patrol unit dispatch are assigned priority codes once entered into the Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system. Calls are categorized into four classifications,
A-, B-, C-, and I-Priority (see Table I below).

The public can also contact the police for non-emergency services through the police non-emergency number 553-0123 for nuisance-type complaints.

Table 1. Description Of Calls Received By The 9-1-1 Emergency System.


    Nature Of Call

    Dispatch Patrol Unit

    Type Of Response

    Estimated Average Patrol Unit Arrival Time


    Life-threatening emergency.



    5 minutes, 41 seconds


    Potential for harm to life and/or property



    15 minutes


    Crime committed with no threat to life or property. Suspect left crime scene.



    45 minutes


    Information only broadcast, e.g. public disturbance. Caller wants to remain anonymous.

    Depends on situation



Source: San Francisco Police Department, Communications Dispatcher Manual (DM-7)

It is estimated that up to 55% of calls placed to the 9-1-1 system are non-emergencies.iThese calls often "tie-up" the communications system as dispatchers must answer calls, determine whether the call is an emergency or non-emergency, process the call for response, or re-route the call as deemed appropriate.

The SFPD and ECD offer alternatives for requesting non-emergency police services, including:

  • referring or transferring 9-1-1 callers, as appropriate, to the police non-emergency number, 553-0123 or, for crimes that already occurred and do not require further investigation, to the SFPD's Teleserve Unit1 at 553-4912,
  • dispatching low-priority calls involving crime and nuisance-type calls received through the 9-1-1 system to a police officer for response and investigation, or
  • taking walk-in "cold reports" at the police district station 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Teleserve currently has a multilingual staff of five civilians who receive non-emergency "cold report" requests from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Teleserve has a capacity for seven civilian operators but due to budget constraints, the staff has been cut to five. In addition, Teleserve's operating hours were reduced from two shifts (the day and swing shifts) to just one seven-hour shift from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Understaffing and reduced operating hours at the Teleserve Unit has resulted in call answer times of up to 3 hours.ii

Callers unable to reach a Teleserve call taker often use the 9-1-1 system instead, further tying up the system. Often, minor crimes such as graffiti, thefts, burglaries, etc. go unreported because callers become discouraged by the long wait times with the Teleserve Unit.iii

A promising partial solution to the long wait times in accessing SFPD non-emergency services is the Citizen Online Police Reporter or C.O.P.R.ivWhile still in the development phase, C.O.P.R. could potentially enable the public to report any of the following to the SFPD:

  • Lost Property
  • Petty Theft
  • Grand Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Suspicious Occurrence
  • Online Tipping
  • Automobile Break-In

Other Jurisdictions

The cities investigated for their non-emergency crime reporting systems include San Jose, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

San Jose, California

In November 1997, San Jose launched a pilot 3-1-1 system for non-emergency calls as provided for by state legislation.2 As a result, in November 2000 the California Department of General Services, Telecommunications Division (DGS-TD) issued a report on San Jose's pilot program ("Non-Emergency Number Pilot Programs") yielding the following initial findings:vby 31 percent reduction in the total number of calls received by the 9-1-1 telephone number from November 1997 to November 1999,

  • approximately 10 percent reduction in the number of non-emergency calls placed on the 9-1-1 telephone number from 1997 to 1999,
  • one second reduction in the call answer times for callers calling the city's 9-1-1 telephone number from November 1997 to November 1999, and
  • little public confusion about the 3-1-1 non-emergency telephone number because of an effective public education campaign.

The public within the San Jose Police Department's (SJPD) jurisdiction has several channels through which they are able to access police services:

  • SJPD Communications handles both non-emergency and emergency requests for police services through San Jose's 3-1-1 and 9-1-1 telephone numbers.
  • SJPD Communications operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and employs 151 dispatchers.
  • The Telephone Report Automation Center (TRAC), implemented in 1995 by City Council action, processes calls requesting police reports for minor crimes ("cold reports") that do not require police investigations such as theft, vandalism, stolen property. TRAC operates from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.viThree to four civilian call takers staff SJPD Communications during typical shifts and are trained to handle 9-1-1, 3-1-1, and TRAC calls.
  • Call takers are divided among the 9-1-1, 3-1-1, and TRAC systems depending on the volume of calls received by each system and the time of day.
  • TRAC takes mandated crime reports such as missing persons, cancellations of missing persons, and lost/stolen license plates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The initial cost of launching the 3-1-1 system was $367,438, of which $200,000 was appropriated from the State Emergency Telephone Number Account of DGS-TD.viiThis figure includes equipment purchases, equipment maintenance, management services, public education campaign, staff, and preparation for the pilot program.

During July and August 2003, the SJPD launched the On-Line Crime Reporting System.viiiCallers requesting crime reports through the traditional TRAC phone system are referred to the On-Line Crime Reporting System when call answer times for TRAC are expected to be delayed. For crimes committed within the SJPD's jurisdiction, the public can file the following reports online:

  • Auto Burglary
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicle Tampering
  • Harassing Phone Calls
  • Lost/Stolen Property

As the online crime reporting system has only recently been launched, an assessment of the system's effectiveness at this time is difficult. However, some initial data seems encouraging. Crime report requests through TRAC have decreased by 2 percent from 1447 reports in September to 1419 reports in October 2003.ixThe number of "cold reports" submitted through the On-Line Crime Reporting System currently are unavailable.

Chicago, Illinois

In January 1999, Chicago established its 3-1-1 telecommunications system partly to support the Chicago Police Department's (CPD) "Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy" (CAPS) and to divert non-emergency calls from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) that handles all 9-1-1 emergencies. The 3-1-1 telecommunications system in conjunction with the community policing program CAPS-in existence since 1993-enabled the police department to reserve more efforts for emergencies. The 3-1-1 system also reduced the number of non-emergency calls placed to the 9-1-1 emergency system to five percent of approximately four million total calls per year.x

The CPD was able to dedicate more time and resources responding to emergencies by designating teams of eight to nine beat officers to handle non-emergency situations exclusively in designated city beats and patrols. These teams of beat officers respond to calls for police service especially those of a non-emergency nature through the 3-1-1 system, freeing up other officers to dedicate their time attending to emergency situations dispatched through the 9-1-1 number.

In addition, the 3-1-1 call center collects data about non-emergency crimes reported through the system that is organized by geographical beats. Data collected from the call center and information collected by CAPS teams are analyzed at monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly beat meetings. Attended by beat officers and members of the public, beat meetings address the conditions of beats, identify the types of crimes being committed, and helps the CPD develop strategies to combat these problems.

Chicago invested $8 million to set up its 3-1-1 call center.xiThis figure includes the costs of integrating the police department and other city departments into the system. Since its initial launching in 1999, Chicago has integrated all of the city's departments into the 3-1-1 system and employs a city service staff of approximately 54 full time personnel. There are also 200 to 215 limited duty police officers available for non-emergency police services such as "cold report" taking.xiiNon-emergency police services constitute one-third of the three million calls received annually at the citywide 3-1-1 call center.xiii

Philadelphia. Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) makes available an online reporting system accessible from the PPD website.xivThe online reporting system makes accessible reports previously available in a printed format at local district police stations. The report forms available online include the following reports:

  • Abandoned Vehicle Report
  • Abandoned Property Report
  • Commend an Officer
  • Feedback Form for contacting the webmaster
  • Confidential Narcotics Activity Complaint
  • Roll Call Complaint
  • Sanitation Violation Report
  • Hazardous Highway Conditions Report
  • Employment Application for police officers.

Once reports are submitted, the reports are e-mailed to the appropriate district or specialized units handling the crime within 24 hours. The district or unit responds to the report within 48 hours.

Implemented in 1999 initially for a single district but now available for all police districts, the online reporting system helps the public and the PPD in the following ways:xvProvides the public an alternative system to the 9-1-1 number for nuisance type complaints and other "quality of life" type problems.

  • Gives the public access to the PPD 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the option of remaining anonymous.
  • Facilitates the reporting of non-emergency problems or conditions of which the PPD should be made aware.
  • Ensures that reports submitted online meet certain minimum information requirements for the PPD to determine the appropriate police response as incomplete reports cannot be submitted.
  • Helps police units dedicate more time to higher priority calls.
  • Reduces duplicate dispatching of police units to the same area for the same, often chronic, non-emergency problems.

The PPD developed the online reporting system over the course of three months, initially for a single district but gradually expanded to include all districts at a cost not exceeding $2,000 for the purchase of hardware and software applications. In addition, the PPD contracts out the PPD website hosting to a third party at a cost of $300 per year.xvi

Additionally, the PPD operates the Differential Police Response Unit (DPR) that receives
non-emergency police service requests originating from the 9-1-1 emergency system. Presently, a dedicated DPR number is not available.

The DPR is staffed by limited duty police officers such as pregnant female officers or injured officers. The DPR handles non-emergency calls reporting, among other complaints, narcotics sales or abandoned vehicles and distributes them to the appropriate units to take action.

PPD officials estimate that 10-15 percent of the 3.3 million 9-1-1 calls have been diverted to the DPR and the online reporting system.xviiExact numbers of total online report submittals are unavailable as the online system is not tied to a specific central database at the PPD. Instead, submissions are e-mailed directly to commanding officers at district stations.


San Francisco provides the public alternatives for requesting non-emergency police services such as the police non-emergency number (553-0123) and for "cold reports" the SFPD's Teleserve number (553-4912). Because Teleserve is not fully functional, members of the public use the 9-1-1 system to file complaints when unable to reach the Teleserve Unit. These and other non-emergency calls to the 9-1-1 system increase the call burden on 9-1-1 and compromise the City's ability to respond to genuine emergencies.

The SFPD could increase funding for Teleserve to hire and train more call takers, utilize limited duty officers as Teleserve call takers, and/or implement an online reporting system.3While a suitable approach is used in Philadelphia's DPR unit, staffing of the SFPD's Teleserve Unit with light duty officers, often with disciplinary holds, has been attempted in the recent past in San Francisco but proved unsuccessful, according to Captain O'Neil of the SFPD.xviii

An online reporting system would leverage technology to increase the public's access to
non-emergency police services including reporting minor crimes and nuisance complaints but does have some limitations. In considering different ways to implement an online reporting system similar to those in place in San Jose and Philadelphia, the SFPD is already considering some obstacles that may limit equal access to the police department including the following considerations:xixUnequal access to the computers and the internet.

  • Unfamiliarity with computers and the internet.
  • Reading and typing challenges for non-English speakers, physically challenged, and elderly.

For members of the public without computer and/or internet access, the San Francisco Public Library currently maintains 400 public access computers with internet access at 28 branch libraries and the main library. On average about 10 publicly accessible computers and one express terminal are available at the branch libraries while 103 total computers are available at the main library. Typically, a patron waits 30 minutes to one hour to have access to the computer for one hour. Express terminals are available for use for 15 minutes and the average wait time is 15 minutes. The wait time to access a computer, however, varies greatly depending on the time of day and library branch.xx

Different approaches to mitigating the effects of unequal computer and internet access have already been proposed by the SFPD. These include the following proposals:xxiMaking public computer kiosks with internet access available in public buildings.

  • Making the web-based reporting system available in the languages most used in San Francisco, including among other languages Spanish and Chinese.

In addition, the public should have more than one way to access the police department and some redundancy should be built into the non-emergency crime reporting system. Neither the emergency nor non-emergency systems including Teleserve should be cut in anticipation of or any realized cost benefits derived from launching an online reporting system. Instead, an online reporting system may alleviate non-emergency call burdens on the ECD emergency and non-emergency telephone numbers and increase accessibility for members of the public using the existing systems.


The OLA recommends that the Board urge the SFPD to design and develop an online reporting mechanism integrated with the SFPD's existing web site for the purpose of receiving non-emergency nuisance type complaints and/or enabling the public to file "cold reports." It is estimated that an online reporting capability would relieve the ECD and the Teleserve Unit of at least five percent of report requests, reducing the average wait time for non-emergency callers dialing Teleserve.

The City may consider more aggressively marketing the existing non-emergency phone numbers, the non-emergency 553-0123 and Teleserve 553-4912. However, any marketing efforts that increase public awareness of the Teleserve number without a fully functioning Teleserve system (24 hours a day or a minimum 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.) could potentially further the public's frustration due to the additional burden of more calls and long wait times.

Appendix 1: Summary Comparison Of Non-Emergency Crime Reporting Systems In Surveyed Jurisdictions


    Total calls per year4


    Operating hours

    Online Reporting System

    Crime Index Rate5

    San Francisco



    Approximately 1.3 million calls

    55% or 715,000 of all calls are non-emergencies


    Approximately 160 civilian dispatchers

    Approximately 12 dispatchers per shift

    24 hours





    Approximately 500,000 calls.

    SFPD Teleserve "cold reports"



    5 civilian clerks

    8 a.m. to 3 p.m.,

    San Jose



    325,000 calls

    9% or 30,000 are non-emergencies

    151 civilian dispatchers for
    9-1-1, 3-1-1, and TRAC

    3-4 dispatchers per shift for 9-1-1,
    3-1-1, and TRAC

    24 hours

    On-line Crime Reporting; able to take crime reports




    275,000 calls from 9/1999 to 8/2000.

    TRAC "cold reports", TRAC does not have a direct number

    156,000 calls.

    TRAC 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., M-F.


    Total calls per year6


    Operating hours

    Online Reporting System

    Crime Index Rate7




4 million calls in 1999

5% or 200,000 are non-emergencies and transferred to

1,048 total staff, 463 police dispatch and 276 3-1-1 dispatchxxii

30 call takers and 26 dispatchers per shiftxxiii

200-215 limited duty sworn officers are available for police non-emergency services

24 hours



Non-emergency and "cold reports",

3 million calls, 1 million non-emergency police service requests




3.3 million calls

5% or 165,000 are non-emergencies and transferred to DPR

261 civilian dispatchers

24 hours

On-line reporting system for abandoned vehicles, abandoned property, narcotics complaints, etc.


Non-Emergency and "cold reports",

DPR does not have a direct number

6-20 limited duty sworn officers staff DPR per shift


1 The Teleserve Unit (Teleserve) takes low priority crime incidents and those crimes that occurred but do not need a response ("cold reports") over the phone. Teleserve does not dispatch police officers in the field, and frees police officers in the field from taking cold reports that would otherwise be dispatched through ECD's emergency and non-emergency numbers.

2 Assembly Bill 1198 (AB 1198) required the State 9-1-1 Program to conduct a pilot program for alternative non-emergency numbers to the "9-1-1" emergency number.

3 San Francisco voters approved Proposition D in June of 1994 that established a minimum level of 1,971 full duty sworn personnel, and the City has prioritized hiring sworn personnel to meet the Proposition D mandate (City Charter Section 4.127). As a result, the SFPD cannot hire additional civilian personnel including Teleserve call takers without increasing its budget and adding personnel costs to the SFPD.

A proposed amendment to the City Charter subject to voter approval on March 2, 2004 would amend Section 4.127 and add Section 16.123 to provide for a study of which positions in the Police Department could be filled by civilian personnel rather than sworn officers and allow the City to reduce the minimum police staffing level for each position it converts from sworn to civilian.

4 Call prioritization and whether a call is an emergency or non-emergency depends on police policies and procedures for each jurisdiction and are not directly comparable across jurisdictions.

5 Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Crime Index is calculated as the number of violent crime and property crime per 100,000 inhabitants.

6 Call prioritization and whether a call is an emergency or non-emergency depends on police policies and procedures for each jurisdiction and are not directly comparable across jurisdictions.

7 Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Crime Index is calculated as the number of violent crime and property crime per 100,000 inhabitants.


i Kerry Dalrymple, Director of Client Service, San Francisco Emergency Communications Department, phone interview, 10/29/2003.

ii Lieutenant Oberhoffer, Commanding Officer Records Management Section, San Francisco Police Department, interview, 10/8/2003.

iii Ibid.

iv Ibid.

v California Department of General Services, Telecommunications Division, "Report to the Governor and Legislature: Non-Emergency Number Pilot Programs, City of San Diego, City of San Jose," p. 2-3, 11/2000.

vi Laura Haynes, Administrative Support Supervisor, San Jose Police Department, phone interview, 10/30/2003.

vii California Department of General Services, Telecommunications Division, Report, p. 28-29.

viii San Jose Police Department On-Line Crime Reporting System is available at

ix Dan Hayes, Telecommunications Supervisor, San Jose Police Department, phone interview, 11/4/2003.

x Dispatch Monthly, "Association of Public Safety Communications Officials - International (APCO 2001)",

xi Theodore O'Keefe, Director of City Services, phone interview, 9/30/2003.

xii PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the City of Los Angeles, "3-1-1/Internet Services Project: Market Analysis and Best Practices Report, Appendix F - Comparison of Dallas and Chicago," p. 5, 11/2/1999.

xiii Gary Allen, "Chicago Implements 311 For All City Services," 911 Dispatch Online Magazine, 9/17/1998,

xiv Philadelphia Police Department Online Report Forms are available at .

xv Officer David Yarnell, Philadelphia Police Department Webmaster & IT Support and Development for Police Athletic League, phone interview, 11/3/2003.

xvi Ibid.

xvii Sergeant Roland Lee, Spokesperson-Public Relations Office, Philadelphia Police Department, phone interview, 11/28/2003.

xviii Captain O'Neil, Support Services Division, San Francisco Police Department, phone interview, 10/6/2003.

xix Ibid.

xx Marcia Schneider, Director Public Affairs Office, San Francisco Public Library, phone interview, 11/6/2003.

xxi Lieutenant Oberhoffer, Records Management Section, 10/28/2003.

xxii Dragonfly Communications Network, "Chicago Fire Department - Wireless High Speed Technology: The Greenhouse Project", p. 3, .

xxiii Charles Davis, "Touring America's PSAPs: An Aussie's Vacation Among US Communications Centers," 9-1-1 Magazine, May/June 1998,