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E-Comm warns of continued high call volumes and lengthy waits on police non-emergency lines

A number of major incidents across the province, from gang-related shootings and the ongoing opioid crisis, to the historic heatwave that swept across British Columbia and the earlier-than-normal wildfire season, have resulted in increasing 9-1-1 call volumes.

Extraordinarily high demand for emergency services has led to longer wait times on police non-emergency lines answered by E-Comm, as call takers prioritize a record-breaking number of 9-1-1 calls from people in life or death situations.

A number of major incidents across the province, from gang-related shootings and the ongoing opioid crisis, to the historic heatwave that swept across British Columbia and the earlier-than-normal wildfire season, have resulted in increasing 9-1-1 call volumes.

Now, with the province nearing the end of COVID-19 restrictions, E-Comm, the emergency communications centre responsible for answering 99 per cent of B.C.’s 9-1-1 calls, anticipates continued challenges with long wait times on police non-emergency lines.

“Heading into the busier summer months, we always expected to see increased call volumes,” says Oliver Grüter-Andrew, President and CEO of E-Comm.

“But the current strain on emergency services, including 9-1-1, is extraordinary. This record-breaking demand has led to increased wait times on police non-emergency lines, as E-Comm call takers must prioritize answering life or death emergencies coming through on 9-1-1.” 

E-Comm has been struggling with increasing demand and longer wait times on police non-emergency lines for the past few years, but the problem has been greatly exacerbated by higher call volumes on 9-1-1 and ongoing staffing challenges.

Adding to current issues with wait times, E-Comm is reporting that up to 36 per cent of police non-emergency calls do not belong on these lines and must be redirected to other more appropriate resources. This is a huge drain on police dispatch services and takes up valuable call taker time that could otherwise be spent on helping people needing to report actual non-urgent police matters.

“For many of the calls we receive on non-emergency numbers, a police call taker is not the right person to action the caller’s concern. Knowing when to call 9-1-1, when to call the non-emergency line to report a non-urgent police matter or when to call elsewhere doesn’t just free up these critical resources – it also means callers can get the help they need faster,” explains Grüter-Andrew. 

Of the 36 per cent of calls that cannot be handled on police non-emergency lines, some of the most common redirects are:

  • Local police agency: Visit your local police agency’s website for information about finger printing services, criminal record checks or requests for copies of police reports.
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: Call 1-888-495-8501 or report fraud online if you have experienced fraud or a fraud attempt but did not lose any money.
  • ICBCCall 1-800-910-4222 or make a claims report online if you were involved in a motor vehicle incident where there are no injuries or imminent threat to public safety and all vehicles are drivable.
  • Local civic services: Visit local municipal websites for all questions or concerns related to city bylaws including dumped garbage, parking-related complaints or concerns about traffic lights.
  • BC Residential Tenancy Branch: Call 1-800-665-8779 to ask questions about tenancy laws or to get help with landlord/tenant disputes or apply for dispute resolution online.

For those who aren’t sure if their call belongs on the police non-emergency line, E-Comm has a list of alternative resources and information on its website. Meanwhile, many non-emergency concerns can be reported online, at the caller’s convenience.

Otherwise, calling on a weekday outside the hours of 7 a.m.—7 p.m. can help reduce the wait time to speak with a police non-emergency call taker. A full list of links to online crime reporting and non-emergency phone numbers is available at nonemergency.ca.

E-Comm appreciates the public’s support as it continues to navigate the busy summer months and wants to remind the public that everyone can do their part by keeping 9-1-1 lines free for police, fire and ambulance emergencies only.