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Spokane to shift who answers police 911 calls Monday

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Rebecca White
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Spokane Assistant Police Chief Justin Lundgren announces changes to the 911 system Friday, October 28.

The Spokane Police Department will reshuffle who answers emergency 911 calls starting this Monday.

Until now, most 911 calls in Spokane were handled by Spokane Regional Emergency Communications. But that agency, and many fire districts around the greater Spokane area, are critically short staffed.

To make sure calls are answered, SREC asked Spokane police dispatchers to take on extra responsibilities, said Assistant Spokane Police Chief Justin Lundgren.

“For the emergency calls, where it’s in progress, and there's an imminent threat, there should be no change to the way that those calls are processed,” Lundgren said. “Where the public may notice a difference is in the lower acuity calls. Perhaps a suspect has left, something did happen, we need to get police officers there. There isn't that imminent threat where it needs to happen right now.”

Callers should notice no difference in the way fire calls are answered.

Lundgren said the shortage of dispatchers and call takers started during Washington’s vaccine mandate. Many stations and police departments in the region lost firefighters and officers when Washington Governor Jay Inslee required them to get the coronavirus vaccine. Some were reassigned to call taking duties. When the mandate was lifted, firefighters that had become dispatchers returned to field, leaving service gaps.

“They're hiring, we're hiring, everybody's hiring,” Lundgren said. “It’s a labor market issue across public safety and really, I think economy wide, you’re seeing employers that are struggling to try and get additional folks.”

Lundgren said one way the public can help the region’s stretched emergency response teams is to only call 911 for active emergencies. He said incidents where no one is in active danger should go to crime check – the region’s non-emergency police line. The public can report incidents on crime check’s website, or call 509-456-2233.