Police explain caller background checks
A resident who recently phoned in a complaint to the Haines Borough Police Department was surprised to have the dispatcher ask for her birth date, but police and borough officials say such a measure is standard procedure when writing a report.
When told by the dispatcher that the report couldn’t be completed without the birth date, the caller expressed concern police wouldn’t respond to an emergency if the birthdate wasn’t provided.
Interim police chief Simon Ford said this hasn’t always been the department’s policy and isn’t specifically spelled out anywhere in its procedures or handbooks. “It is a step we have taken towards improving the quality of the reports processed through our dispatch center and police department,” he said.
Interim borough manager Julie Cozzi said she consulted with Ford, who said the procedure is used to gain as much information as possible, as each person involved in a crime or public safety issue is run through the Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN). The APSIN system provides information about officer safety, criminal history and active warrants so an officer doesn’t walk into a situation blindly.
“The police department is in a position where people frequently report information that is not accurate. Part of their job is to decipher what is true and false, and running the caller through APSIN is a tool used in the process of making those determinations,” Cozzi said.
Such a policy also reduces how much subjectivity and discretion a dispatcher uses when reporting a call to an officer. “The chief does not want dispatchers to decide what information to collect based on the caller’s social status, ethnicity, familiarity or any other subjective criteria. The safest policy is to always do everything the same way regardless of who the caller is,” Cozzi said.
Ford said the information also helps prevent mishaps that can happen in a small town, where several people have the same name.
“If someone calls and needs an ambulance or a police officer to respond quickly and we send the help to the other person of the same name, the results could be tragic, so we ask for the date of birth as a simple way to verify the identity of the person we’re speaking with,” Ford said.
If a person doesn’t provide a birth date, they aren’t going to be ignored, Ford said. “If a person is uncomfortable giving us that information, we will still help them. It’s just an easy, practical step we can take to make sure we’re keeping accurate records and correctly mapping calls.”