Text to 911 now available in Denver

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DENVER -- Denver is rolling out a new program that lets people text 911 during emergencies.

Denver gets about 1 million 911 calls per year, and that number is growing. Sometimes, dispatch operators are forced to put callers on hold because of volume. So more people are turning to social media to report crimes to police.

Over the July 4 weekend, dozens of people posted pictures, videos and complaints on the Facebook pages of the Denver Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Aurora Police Department about illegal fireworks.

There was also a viral video posted to Denver police's Facebook page last week after someone caught an assault on the 16th Street Mall on a cellphone.

This type of crime reporting has become so common that on Thursday, the Aurora Police Department sent a tweet reminding people to call 911 during emergencies.

“As a reminder social media is not for reporting crimes. We do not monitor our sites 24 hours a day, nor does the Media Relations Unit have the ability to dispatch officers to crimes in progress. If you need to report a crime or require police assistance please call 303-627-3100 or 911 in an emergency. Thank you.”

Social media is still too new to be used as a tool for 911 dispatch centers.

“We want to take advantage of the technology once it’s been vetted and we know that it’s a good system to use,” Denver 911 Director Athena Butler said.

Texting has been around 24 years and it is just now starting to be used for 911 services. On Thursday, Denver rolled out its text to 911 program as part of a service enhancement called 911Now.

The program allows people to send a text message to “911” describing their emergency, and a dispatch operator will text back and send help. Text to 911 is designed for hearing- or speech-impaired residents, but can be used by anyone.

“It can also be used if residents are unable to speak as a result of an injury or medical emergency [or] facing a threatening situation where a voice call could increase that threat,” Butler said.

The program also includes Smart911, which lets residents create a profile that will automatically populate on the dispatch operator’s screen when you dial 911.

The profile can contain information such as names and ages of people in your household, any special medical needs, vehicle information and pets. Smart911 can give first responders more information about the emergency situation before they arrive.

911Now also employs a system called Swift911. It lets Denver communicate messages to residents during emergencies. Currently, Denver uses a system where important emergency information is given via landline phones. Swift911 will allow Denver to call cellphones, text or email the information.

More than 75 percent of Colorado is able to use text to 911 services though you have to register to be able to use the texting feature.

Text to 911 will work anywhere dispatch operators are equipped to take text message but only in certain coverage areas. Dispatch centers are not able to take videos or photos as part of text to 911.