The Los Angeles Police Department will improve the city’s 911 system, saying callers will be able to use text messages, photos, and even video from cellphones to seek emergency aid, the Los Angeles Times reports. Officials are seeking money to install the new system, which they believe could aid crime fighting by providing callers with alternative ways to alert authorities and provide evidence swiftly. “Sometimes a person calls 911 and says they just saw a robbery and they’ve snapped an image or video of the getaway car,” said Sgt. Lee Sands. “We want to find a way to get that to officers in the field as fast as possible.”
There are times when it’s easier for someone in need to text for help rather than call. “There are circumstances when a person during a kidnap or robbery can’t talk to an operator but they can message them,” Sands said. Allowing people to send photos and text messages to the 911 call center raises the danger of data overload for workers. The center handles more than 2 million calls a year. Officials have been educating residents to only call 911 for actually emergencies (311 lines have been created in many areas for less urgent calls). Tim Riley, the police departments chief information officer, said the potential for data overload is forcing the department to go slowly. Initially, there will be a stopgap system that allows the department to get photos and video from cellphone calls only from callers it solicits. The operator would send a text message to the caller’s phone, and images would be attached to the reply to the operator.