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NYPD dispatch gets modernized by debuting text-to-911 messages

NYPD dispatch gets modernized by debuting text-to-911 messages

A 51-year-old South Bronx man was torn about what to do when he saw an angry young man with a pistol in his backpack fighting with another person at a crowded neighborhood deli.

He was worried about gunshots — but was wary about calling 911.

“I used to be a knucklehead myself,” said the witness, a professional cook who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I’m from the hood and we don’t call 911. We take care of things our way.

“But … I saw the guy reach for the gun and I had to do something in case people got hurt.”

Fortunately, he had an alternative to phoning it in. Since June 2, New Yorkers can text to 911 for the first time.

The grandfather’s simple message came over at 4:12 pm to veteran NYPD dispatcher Kathyann Peters on Sept. 10.

“Male 6’ tall red shirt gun in fanny pack in front of deli.”

Eighteen minutes later, 25-year-old Mustafa Anderson, who has a prior rap sheet involving assault and harassment, was arrested nearby after throwing out what turned out to be an imitation pistol.

For dispatcher Peters, handling a 911 text is sometimes easier than fielding a call — because people tend to get right to the point, she said.

A mock demonstration of what New Yorkers see when they text to 911.
A mock demonstration of what New Yorkers see when they text to 911.

Texting is ideal for the roughly 208,000 hearing-impaired city residents, those with speech difficulties and young people who prefer it to phoning — but Peters said a lot of 911 texts are coming from domestic-violence victims.

“A lot of times the perpetrator is someone right in the house with them and they’re much safer texting us than they would be calling,” she said.

The cook who texted the call that led to Anderson’s arrest felt safer, too.

“If I’d phoned it in, people could have heard me and I might have gotten into an altercation myself,” he told The Post. “This way I went and had a sandwich and continued about on my business.”

The city urges citizens to text 911 only if they cannot call, however.

City data shows that most response times for texts lag well behind the response times for voice calls.

For instance, in July, the average NYPD response time to a 911 call for a critical crime in progress — including shots fired, robberies and assaults with weapons — was 8.3 minutes. For texts, it was 13 minutes.

For medical emergencies, the FDNY’s response time to calls was 10.5 minutes, but to texts it was 15.9 minutes.

“If your life is on the line, you don’t want to be text messaging back and forth with 911,” a veteran EMS member said.

“Imagine getting CPR instructions by text, or your baby is choking and you’re waiting for a text message to know what to do.”

The NYPD’s launch of text-to-911 comes after more than six years of infighting and stalled initiatives surrounding the service. Officials initially promised to have the system online by early 2018.

The program is part of a larger $28 million contract awarded to Motorola subsidiary Vesta Solutions in 2017, which ballooned to $41 million as the delays continued.

The department’s gone from the Stone Age to Renaissance to the dotcom era just since 2014,” said Deputy Commissioner Matthew Fraser, head of Information Technology for the NYPD. “Cops have tablets and smartphones with them that help them see jobs in real time. Texting to 911 is part of precision policing. We can’t afford to let the technology get ahead of us.”

PCT Kathyann Peters shows what NYPD sees when receiving a 911 text.
PCT Kathyann Peters shows what NYPD sees when receiving a 911 text.J.C. Rice

Fraser did admit that the “technology” — at least when it comes to texting-to-911 — can sometimes invite what he termed “inappropriate pictures.” He declined to elaborate, but said it wasn’t a serious problem.

The Sept. 10 texter said he was unable to sleep the night after he sent the text.

“I’m not proud, I don’t feel like a hero,” he said when The Post told him the suspect was arrested without incident. “The bottom line is, where I come from, the cops are not always on our side. But I had to make a choice to contact them. I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I could do it via text.”

About the author

James Thompson

James Thompson

James Thompson has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Report Door one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

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