Calling the police has gotten harder

It has gotten harder to call the police. The last few weeks I have made several attempts to report illegal fireworks to Seaside PD. We've always used the non-emergency number 831-394-6811 to do this, and our call would be promptly answered by a dispatcher who would take the information and immediately enter it into the system.

Now one must jump through several hoops with no guarantee the system won't disconnect you before the report is made. And I'm getting fed up.

Instead of having our calls answered by a human, a machine will answer, much as it does for every business you call these days. First it tells you that this number is not for emergencies, and if you have an emergency you must hang up and call 911. Then they say it again in Spanish. 

Next, you are instructed to choose English or Spanish. Next it tells you that they're busy answering emergency 911 calls and implies that your non-emergency concern is an imposition on their important work.

Then the voice asks you to state the nature of the crime you are reporting. Sometimes it recognizes what you are saying, and sometimes it asks you to repeat yourself, sometimes multiple times. 

Once you've cleared that hurdle it tells you that the best way to report a non-emergency crime is to fill out an online form, so the time it has taken to get this far is wasted. It then asks if it can send you a text message with a link to the form. If you say no it tells you the online form is the most efficient way to report a non-emergency crime. If you still say no you get stuck in a maze and the only way I've found to talk to a real person is to scream a lot of bad words.

Or sometimes it just hangs up on you an you have to call back and start over.

One time I caved in and said Yes to getting the link to report the crime online. Big mistake. The online form doesn't let you type in the nature of the crime. No, you must select a pre-defined crime from a list. Illegal fireworks are not on the list, so you can't report them this way. More time wasted.

You might be thinking Seaside has a dedicated number exclusively for reporting illegal fireworks, 831-718-8777. Nope, it now leads to the idiotic new system.

So I go back through their system and scream lots of bad words and eventually get a real person. The real people are much more pleasant to deal with and get the job done quickly and efficiently.

On one call I mentioned to the real person that I was having lots of trouble getting my message through the new system. Strangely, she did not seem to know there was a new system. She suggested I call the Seaside non-emergency number. I explained that was the number I've always called, but now it's sending me through a frustrating phone maze. She said "I'm sorry to hear that" or some such thing, politely asked if there was anything else I needed, and that was the end of it.

The mornings after I've called this new system I got text messages asking me to rate the dispatcher on a scale of 1-5. I texted back 5, because the dispatchers have been friendly and efficient. I was hoping for a follow-up question about how well the call system in general works, but I guess they don't want to know.

It so happened that as I was writing this I got my daily e-mail newsletter from the Monterey County Weekly. The introductory commentary was on this very subject. The author wrote in glowing terms about how Monterey County has adopted a new artificial intelligence system to assist dispatchers with on-emergency calls. It says callers will "be greeted by an AI voice, which asks the callers questions to learn about their situation. It will then either provide information to the caller or transfer them to the appropriate department." As if it were that simple.

He continued: "The AI is still learning and it will transfer callers to a human dispatcher if it can’t understand a request." Well, that explains why I am able to get through by swearing, but it doesn't explain why I can't get assistance any other way.

Now here's the kicker: the commentary declares that "the bot has shown to alleviate the volume of calls dispatchers receive — the Emergency Communications Department has seen a 30-percent average monthly decline in non-emergency calls." It attributes this decline to the success of the AI system. Given my experience, I would attribute it to the system's failures. After all, who wants to report a non-emergency situation to a system that is difficult to navigate, insists that you should report non-emergency crimes through a website that may or may not list your problem, and often disconnects you before you can get anywhere? I for one have stopped reporting illegal fireworks for this very reason. I'll bet others are doing the same.

Carmel Fire Station


Anonymous said…
It seems it’s this way almost everywhere when calling a service business these days! It’s the ultimate ‘pass the buck’ scheme. It is totally inefficient & is now one of the most annoying things in day to day life!😡

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