Evanston police start text-to-911 program

Tori Latham, City Editor

Evanston residents can now text 911 if they are unable to call in an emergency, police announced last week.

Evanston police created the program after discovering the department receives 70 percent of its 911 calls from cell phones. Evanston is the first North Shore suburb and the fourth Illinois city to provide a text-to-911 option, according to EPD.

The service is ideal for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or are in a situation where calling would increase their danger, said Perry Polinski, the city’s 911 communications coordinator.

“We do want to emphasize that this is not as reliable as voice calls,” Polinski said. “People should only text if they have no other option, such as being in a hostage or burglary situation.”

EPD began developing the program in late 2013. It went into effect in early February, although at that point it was still in a testing stage, Polinski said.

“We wanted to be on the cutting edge,” Polinski said. “This is important, and the public expects it from us.”

Residents can exchange text messages with an operator if they text 911 in an emergency, Polinski said. However, cell phones do not automatically provide police with a caller’s address, so those who text or call 911 on a cell phone must tell the operator that information.

Residents with cell service provided by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon can use the service within Evanston or other areas with text-to-911 services.

Thus far, EPD has received about half a dozen texts, Polinski said. Of those, only two were for emergency situations — a domestic issue and a report of shots fired.

“I don’t think we will receive that many texts,” Polinski said. “The occasion will be rare when somebody is unable to call.”

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