WARREN COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Warren County has a problem.
As Shane Garrard, the Director of 911 Dispatch for Vicksburg and Warren Counties puts it: "Crime is steady rising, and manpower is steady decreasing."
Garrard says Vicksburg has seen a drastic spike in crime recently. At times, it's more than the Dispatch Center can keep up with.
"It's nothing for us to get 20-30 calls within a couple of minutes from the general public. At most, we have four dispatchers on the floor. So if all four of my dispatchers are currently on the phone, that fifth person will get a recording," explained Garrard.
So, Garrard's department partnered with Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs to try to get a message out to the public:
Call 911 if there's an immediate threat to life, health, safety, or property, but if you need a response that could wait a second, call the non-emergency line.
For Vicksburg and Warren County, that number is 601-631-8800.
To emphasize the difference between what first responders might see as urgent, versus something they would deem important, but not an active emergency, Garrard provided the example of difference scenarios where a car might be stolen.
"If a car is stolen overnight, you don't know when it was actually stolen, it's not a lights and sirens response for a police officer," explained Garrard. "If you come out and see somebody driving off in your vehicle, that is a crime in progress."
The non-emergency line goes to the same dispatch center but allows dispatchers like Paige Cook to prioritize the emergency calls on the 9-1-1 line.
Cook says there's another problem at dispatch: When people call, they're frantic, and they don't really listen to the questions they're being asked. She often must repeat questions multiple times.
In the dispatch center, Cook answers the phone the same way each time: "9-1-1, location of your emergency?"
But often when people call, they just shout for help, and don't actually listen to what the dispatcher is saying.
It's the same check-off list for each and every call.
"[We ask for] Where, what, when, who, weapons, and the welfare," listed Garrard.
The second the dispatcher get your address, someone is already on the way.
It might seem like the dispatchers are asking a lot of questions, but they're updating the first responders who are already en route.
"The biggest thing we really want to know is, where is the emergency, and whether there are weapons involved. Not so much as just for their safety, but also for officer safety," said Kalisha Lush, a dispatcher with Warren County.
Officer Kathryn Truehart says she couldn't agree with Kalisha more. Officer Truehart used to work at dispatch and is now a Vicksburg police officer.
"We need to know what we're going to, and why we're going to this place - what's going on," explained Officer Truehart. "Just because someone calls and says, 'I need the police quick!' and hangs up, we don't know what we're getting into. It's always the possibility of 'what if".
Spending time with dispatchers and officers, you hear this phrase a lot: things aren't the way they seem in movies.
"You know, I just thought I would go answer calls, take reports, that's it. I didn't know that I was going to have to try to be a marriage counselor, a children's case counselor, Dr. Phil, you know, Judge Judy," said Warren County Sheriff Deputy Jesse Tilley.
He's not exaggerating. Deputy Tilley and the folks at dispatch all said people will call 911 basically just to talk or ask about road closures and the weather.
Think about that: Someone could be calling saying they need an ambulance and gets sent to voicemail because the line is jammed with a dispatcher trying to Google something for a caller.
"It is stressful in a lot of ways, but I love what I do," said Cook.
No matter what, though, the dispatchers and the first responders stay calm, and they need you to do the same. Things are more efficient that way.
"I don't think that people understand that if we're wrapped up in emotion when they're wrapped up in emotion, we're not going to get much done," said Lush.
"They'll pass the information on to us regardless of if it's the emergency line or the non-emergency line, whether it's on the radio or over the phone," assured Deputy Tilley.
There is one last thing to know when you're calling dispatch or the non-emergency line. If you do get a voicemail, just wait. Do not hang up and call again.
"If they hang up, it puts them further back in the queue and it delays them getting help," explained Garrard.