Half of non-emergency calls abandoned in Abbotsford

Of 9,176 calls to Abbotsford’s non-emergency phone service between January and March, 4,208 were abandoned

By Josh Kozelj | June 23, 2022 |5:00 am

Frustration with being placed on hold is causing thousands of people to hang up after making non-emergency phone calls to police in Abbotsford.

Nearly half of all non-emergency calls made to police over the first three months of 2022 were abandoned, Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr told the city’s police board recently. Serr said people are hanging up after waiting on hold for a 9-1-1 dispatcher and that the abandoned calls are skewing property crime stats.

“Especially for the more minor property crime offences, someone who is going to make a claim to insurance is still going to need that police report,” Serr said. “But for those minor thefts from yards, gardens, etc. I think that’s where we are seeing a drop.”

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Of 9,176 calls to Abbotsford’s non-emergency phone service between January and March, 4,208 were abandoned, Serr told the police board recently.

Abbotsford contracts 9-1-1 dispatcher E-Comm and its 500 workers to respond to both emergency and non-emergency calls.

Abbotsford Police branch director Elaine Klassen said Abbotsford isn’t unique, and that calls are also being dropped for other BC agencies that use the dispatch service.

E-Comm spokesperson Kaila Butler said the agency understands the long wait times are an issue and is looking to improve the service.

“We know that our wait times are too long, and I want to appreciate the public’s patience,” Butler said.

Between COVID-19, the opioid crisis, and climate disasters like last year’s floods and heat wave, emergency calls to E-Comm have skyrocketed. Butler said those factors have contributed to the long wait times, and that E-Comm dispatchers have to prioritize answering emergency calls.

“People calling through 9-1-1 could be in a life or death situation,” she said.

It has previously been reported that E-Comm dispatchers are experiencing stress and burnout. Even before the heat dome last June, the union representing E-Comm dispatchers recommended that the organization hire more staff. The union said E-Comm had commissioned the same recommendation.

Butler said the dispatch service is increasing recruitment, and has launched a new peer coach program that helps provide support for new call takers. So far this year, E-Comm has hired roughly 50 new call takers.

She expects this summer to be busy once again, with pandemic restrictions dropping and more people coming to the province. Compared to 2021, they have seen a 12% increase on their emergency lines already this year.

“Keep in mind that last year, we saw nine of 10 of our busiest days ever,” Butler said. “So we are seeing exceptional demand when it comes to those 9-1-1 emergency calls.”

To alleviate the increased call demand, Butler said E-Comm is promoting the use of online reporting tools for non-emergency crimes.

Abbotsford police updated their online crime service in 2021, and saw a 41% increase in the number of issues reported online in 2021. There has been another increase of 10% through the first quarter of 2022.

Paul Walker, Abbotsford police’s media relations officer, said crimes reported online are investigated.

When a report is made, he said police look to identify any potential investigative leads in the case and will assign an investigator to the file and follow-ups occur if necessary. A report can also be deemed as information only for issues such as drug and traffic complaints. Those complaints are then passed to various departments to be reviewed for enforcement measures.

Still, with just 313 issues reported through the online tool over the first three months of the year, most reports are made via phone. Klassen told the police board she would like to see 500 reports made online each month.

Walker recognizes that people hanging up does not reflect well on the police department’s ability to provide help in a timely manner, and is working to fix the process.

“All police agencies that utilize E-Comm as their service provider are experiencing this,” he said. “AbbyPD and our policing partners are working closely with E-Comm for answers on how they plan to resolve the timeliness of answering these calls.”

Josh Kozelj

Intern at Fraser Valley Current

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