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‘An exciting tool’: Spokane County dispatch system will now livestream 911 calls to deputies

A Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy escorts a suspect who crashed into multiple vehicles while attempting to evade law enforcement on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at Sprague and Conklin in Spokane Valley, Wash.   (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy escorts a suspect who crashed into multiple vehicles while attempting to evade law enforcement on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at Sprague and Conklin in Spokane Valley, Wash.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Valley and Spokane County deputies can now listen to 911 calls in real-time, becoming the first law enforcement agencies in the Northwest to use a potentially game-changing emergency response software.

“It’s an exciting tool for us,” Spokane Valley Police Department Chief Dave Ellis said. “If it allows us to get to a call even a minute quicker, that can mean a lot in certain circumstances.”

The new software, called Live 911, was installed in deputies’ computers starting this week and gives deputies the opportunity to listen in to 911 calls as they happen, and also to see exactly where the calls are coming from on a Google Earth-like map.

Normally, there’s a bit of delay between calls to 911 and a deputy being dispatched to an emergency. Dispatchers have to collect information like location and type of emergency, then relay that information.

But Live 911 circumvents that delay by allowing deputies to listen directly to the important information.

Ellis said Live 911 can cut response times by one or two minutes, which can be vital in emergencies where every second counts.

The software not only saves response time, but gives deputies invaluable details about an emergency. It can give deputies the exact location of a caller, which can be especially helpful if callers are unsure of the closest address, and helps deputies better understand an incident before they get there.

Spokane Valley Police Sgt. Dave Westlake said that he was better able to understand the severity of a domestic violence incident and prepare for it simply because he heard the tone of the caller’s voice.

“I was able to listen to the caller and the stress in her voice, and how she was shaking, to fully understand the depth of her fear in this incident,” Westlake said. “I knew that it was probably a bigger emergency than just a domestic violence argument.”

Westlake added that simply doesn’t happen over conventional dispatch radio.

Ellis said the Sheriff’s Office had heard of success stories at police departments in Florida and California, and decided to implement the software across the board after research and a trial period with select units. The software is also fairly cost-effective, with the price tag around $6,000 per year for an entire department, according to Ellis.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if this software becomes standard for police around the country.

“You would be hard pressed to find a more cost efficient way to cut response times,” Ellis said.

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