At Your Service

Becca Barrus

Becca Barrus

CDE Police

*To take the corresponding CDE quiz, visit the College of Emergency Dispatch.*

As you know, the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS®) is designed to help Emergency Police Dispatchers (EPDs) like you appropriately send responses to calls for help from members of your community. It’s a tool that’s constantly being evaluated and reevaluated to make sure it’s adequately supporting you, the caller, and the responders. 

What you might not know is that updates aren’t just made to the Protocol when a new version is released. While the recently released PPDS v7.0 brought a number of important changes to ProQA®, equally important changes were made in the most recent maintenance release. What’s the difference between a version update and a maintenance release? When a new version is released, Determinant Code numbers might change, although we try to change them as little as possible. When a maintenance release comes out, smaller (but still important) changes are made, like tweaks to the wording of the instructions or questions, changes to pick-list menu options, or the information provided to CADs. The first maintenance release of a newly released protocol is often an important step in the overall improvement of the new protocol versioning.

While you probably noticed changes in PPDS v7.0, the maintenance release’s smaller (but still important) adjustments may have escaped your attention, especially to Protocol 125: Public Service (Lock-Out/Lock-In, Peace, Welfare, Reckless Activity). According to the IAED Data Center, it’s the eighth most common Chief Complaint used to handle PPDS calls, meaning you probably use it often, such as when someone’s locked their keys in their car or is calling for police assistance while they go back to their ex’s house to pick up some belongings. In more pressing situations, someone might call to ask that someone check on a parent they haven’t heard from for a while or to report seeing a child in a locked car on a hot day in a grocery store parking lot.

Whether it’s a call needing a DELTA- or ALPHA-level response, this article will help you make sure the caller is receiving the right help in the right place at the right time.

Jurisdictionally Approved Questions and Instructions
One of the most notable changes to the PPDS in the past five years is the ability for centers to enable or disable a variety of Key Questions or Post-Dispatch Instructions (PDIs) in an effort to tailor the protocol to the local needs of communication centers and the public and responders they serve. These decisions are made with the help of your center’s Dispatch Steering and Dispatch Review Committees (DSC and DRC, respectively), who decide which Jurisdictionally Approved Questions (JAQs) or Instructions (JAIs) are appropriate for Emergency Dispatchers to ask and provide in your area. If they are not enabled, they are not part of the protocol. Flexibility is important in all aspects of emergency dispatching, but especially in policing. Law enforcement agencies have individual needs according to their resources and the needs of the community.

For example, in a situation where an officer or deputy is needed to keep the peace, one of the JAQs is “Are there any protective/no contact/court orders in place?” For a whole host of reasons, the existence of such orders may or may not impact how law enforcement respond to the scene.

When a Key Question must be jurisdictionally approved, the corresponding PDI must also be. In fact, the only PDIs on Protocol 125 that are not JAIs in v7.0 are “Avoid the person or vehicle” and “Do not disturb anything at the scene” for RECKLESS ACTIVITY situations. All PDIs in the PPDS are given JAI status if they do not have an element of caller, responder, or bystander safety to them.

Speaking of keeping the peace, what does that mean in the context of the PPDS? In this case, it describes situations when someone calls asking for officers to stand by while they obtain property or exchange children. How is that different from DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE/NUISANCE? According to Dave Warner, Police Protocol, Academics, and Standards Associate with the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch®, “Usually KEEP THE PEACE situations are when a fight or disturbance isn’t currently taking place—rather, it’s a result of one that has happened in the past. They’re requesting police presence so things don’t flare up again. Often, they’re exchanging children or property, or recovering personal items from a location.”

As with other Chief Complaints, the caller’s location for a KEEP THE PEACE situation is important. If the caller is not at the place where they’re going to pick up their property, you’ll need to get the address where they’re going so the officers can head to the correct location and have time to get backup if needed. The latest maintenance update in ProQA gives you several options to choose from when you ask if the caller is at that location: “Yes – At problem location,” “Yes – Meeting officers at neutral location (caller only),” “No – En route to problem location,” and “No – En route to neutral location.” These options allow police to arrange a safe initial response. After meeting with a caller and obtaining further details, a tactical decision in the field can be made to determine if more assistance is needed before responding to the nearby incident location.

According to the IAED Data Center, nearly 50% of all calls taken with Protocol 125 use a DELTA-level Determinant Code. Roughly 42% of calls in the past three years have been triaged with 125-D-1: URGENT CHECK-THE-WELFARE, and 30% were triaged with 125-B-1: CHECK THE WELFARE. Since the release of v7.0, the percentage of incidents using 125-D-1 has already decreased due to a definition change to URGENT CHECK-THE-WELFARE (27%): incidents where a person hasn’t been seen or heard from for an unusual period of time are no longer defined as URGENT.

The difference between URGENT and non-urgent CHECK-THE-WELFARE calls is the potential for the situation to be life-threatening. For example, someone calling to report a homeless person searching for a place to stay for the night during the winter isn’t nearly as time sensitive as someone calling to report a homeless person who is laid out unresponsive on the sidewalk during any season at all. Similarly, a common call you’ll triage using this protocol is someone out of state calling to have local police check on the status of a relative they haven’t heard from in a few days. That call in itself would be standard CHECK-THE-WELFARE, but if they report that the relative is very old or very young or is in a situation that could reasonably be life-threatening, it will get bumped to an URGENT case.

If the caller has good reason to suspect that the relative has killed themselves or might attempt to, you will still use Protocol 125! The caller is worried that the person may have completed suicide, but they lack any clear, convincing information that such an act has occurred. The same principle applies if the caller is worried the person has been assaulted and similarly lacks evidence of an attack taking place.

Even if the caller doesn’t mention the possibility of suicide or assault, there is always the need to check for weapons on the scene to ensure responder safety. If the person the caller wants you to check on is in a residential building, you will ask, “Does anyone have access to weapons?” and gather any weapons descriptions as needed. (Note the change from previous wording, “Does s/he have access to any guns (firearms)?”.) As always, if the caller volunteers weapon-related information spontaneously, make sure it gets to the responding officers.

If you have feedback or questions about the existing updates or think a certain update should be implemented, the Academy wants to hear from you! Many of the changes in PPDS v7.0 and its following maintenance release were a result of members telling us what was working and what wasn’t.

If you have further questions for our police subject matter experts, send an email to editor@emergencydispatch.org or submit a Proposal for Change at emergencydispatch.org/what-we-do/proposal-for-change