Caught in the moment, victims of crime or abuse cannot always make a voice call to emergency services. Recognizing the fact, Santa Barbara County dispatchers are now able to receive texts sent directly to 9-1-1. The text system also serves the deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired, and it is mainly available in English.
Law enforcement chiefs countywide announced the new service in late June, stating that the ability to text 9-1-1 became especially important during the pandemic. “Stay-at-home orders and practices can put victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse into almost constant close proximity to their abusers and thus inhibit their ability to report crimes verbally by telephone,” said Sheriff Bill Brown, who chairs the Santa Barbara County Law Enforcement Chiefs Association. “Text to 9-1-1 gives victims of, and witnesses to, these crimes another way to report them and obtain help.”
The service has its limitations, the Federal Communications Commission warned: Voice calls are faster, and the voice at the answering end tells callers instantly that they’re connected — a text can take time to transmit and is not available in all areas. Plus, commonly used acronyms and abbreviations can be confusing, and those should be avoided in making an emergency text.
The four largest cellphone service providers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless — are participating in Santa Barbara County’s program, which is not yet available throughout California. The Santa Barbara chiefs added that dispatchers attempt to translate 9-1-1 texts that are not sent in English, but the translation could delay a response.
Simply texting to 9-1-1 is a potential solution to an existing problem. The Sheriff’s Office added that locations should be given, such texts should be limited to emergencies, and voice calling should always be considered the first option when practical.
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