Changing Times

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

CDE Police

A timeline of the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS®) parallels changes in policing and v6.4—launched as a segue to v7.0—is a prime example of how  the Academy’s Police Standards Committee makes that happen. 

“Our intent [with each release] is to reflect the changing police environment and public reception of police,” said Chris Knight, Client Service Strategic Outreach Coordinator for Priority Dispatch Corp. (PDC). “We keep up today’s law enforcement trends and rely on our user agencies to provide us with information about what they would like developed in the protocol.”

The policing environment is in flux and changing rapidly to address what is going on in society, Knight said. Although change is inevitable, law enforcement  has experienced greater than traditional or normal change. For example, community-led movements have led to restructuring how local budgets and police are deployed in service of public safety. Many cities have launched crisis response teams to respond to behavioral health calls in lieu of police and restricting  or clarifying types of force that officers are permitted to use and in what circumstances. As reflected in PPDS v6.4 and the OMEGA code, the public has been  given more options in incident reporting and response. 

Due to lack of support at the federal and local levels and calls for defunding the police from far-left political movements, interest in becoming a police officer has decreased significantly in the U.S., Knight said. Within the past few years, hiring and retention  has become more difficult for departments nationwide because of perceptions of policing and media scrutiny.1


An OMEGA code is a specific Determinant Code of a non-emergent nature and is accompanied by an OMEGA suffix to delineate the type of OMEGA designation. Protocol logic directs appropriate pathways for agencies to customize instructions for callers. The OMEGA logic in ProQA® guides the  EPD to direct callers to online police reporting websites to file official reports or to refer callers to other municipal service providers such as animal control  departments, parking services, or directing callers to telephone reporting units within the law enforcement agencies.

OMEGA is not new to PPDS. Like the other protocol systems, OMEGA provides an alternative response for nonemergency situations. 

“It’s always been there, but not used in the frequency of medical and fire protocols,” Knight said. “The change in police was several years in the making. It reflects the changing police environment and the public’s reception of police. Many people prefer police not come to their homes and [would] rather fill out a report online.”

Specific Determinant Codes on certain protocols are OMEGA eligible. These new OMEGA Key Question sequences, special definitions, PDIs, etc., are  enabled/disabled in administration. The agency can select which individual Chief Complaint Protocols they want the OMEGA-eligible Determinant Codes (and all the suffixes, PDIs, definitions associated with OMEGA) to be available. However, the Online reporting KQ sequence is enabled/disabled globally in Administration.

When OMEGA codes are enabled on a given Chief Complaint, ProQA provides the EPD with Blue Operator Questions instructing the EPD to “Select the appropriate OMEGA pathway.” The EPD chooses the OMEGA pathway appropriate to that agency’s resources as outlined in a Special Definition pop-up  box entitled OMEGA Coding Conditions. ProQA offers these answer choice options:
Not OMEGA – dispatch unit(s)
Online reporting
Telephone reporting
Caller refused OMEGA process – dispatch unit(s)

ProQA doesn’t necessarily SEND right away. This is particularly the case if the EPD has selected the answer choices “Not OMEGA – dispatch unit(s)” and “Caller refused OMEGA process – dispatch unit(s).” If these are selected, ProQA will continue Key Questioning and SEND as normal. These two answer  choices are also the only ones that potentially would not have an OMEGA suffix. If the “Telephone reporting” answer choice is selected, it will have the T suffix  on the Determinant Code.
The suffixes are:
O = Online reporting
T = Telephone reporting
R= Referral

Each OMEGA suffix provides its own unique PDI and Case Exit instructions. The Referral suffix allows agencies to customize the language in the PDI so that it is specific to the resource to which the call will be referred. The new OMEGA Key Question sequences allow for resources to be used more efficiently  and provides more flexibility to an agency, which, as mentioned, has the option of enabling/disabling the Key Question sequences. It also gives callers an alternative to police coming to their doors for questioning. The EPD can refer the caller to a different resource or to make a report over the phone or online.

OMEGA online reporting
ProQA provides four unique Key Questions that can be enabled globally in administration to help determine if a call qualifies for Online reporting.
Do you have an active/working email address?
Are you 18 years of age or older?
Do you have any suspect information (vehicles or persons)?
Is there any obvious evidence at that location (video surveillance, blood, tools)?

These questions tend to be on many law enforcement online reporting websites, helping people determine if their report can be filed online, and can be enabled to display in ProQA after the OMEGA Online pathway is selected by the EPD.

The first section General or Common Qualifiers for Reporting Incidents Online (included below) are the standards associated with most police agencies and outline conditions where online reporting is appropriate. The PPDS previously accounted for most of these issues through, for example, reporting an incident not in progress, a suspect not on scene, or no known suspect information.

Clarification questions in the protocol can be turned on or turned off to meet agency requirements (such as caller’s age, evidence at the scene, caller’s email, and suspect information known—see questions previously listed).

The second section Incidents Allowing Online Reporting designates incidents in which many agencies allow online reporting rather than an in-person report by an officer.

General or Common Qualifiers for Reporting Incidents Online
• The incident is not an emergency
• The incident occurred in the boundaries/jurisdiction of …
• Incident did not occur on a state highway
• No evidence at the scene
• 18 years of age or older
• Valid/working email address
• No suspect information
• No injuries
• No weapons used

Incidents Allowing Online Reporting
• Harassing Phone Calls (Text, Emails)
• Lost Property (Generally excludes firearms)
• Vandalism (Criminal mischief/Graffiti, Some damage limits of $5,000)
• Thefts (Retail, Theft from publicly accessible location; Theft from a vehicle locked/unlocked; Identity Theft; Theft of services; Generally excludes firearms; Attempted motor vehicle theft; Some value limits of $5,000)
• Check Forgery
• Credit/Debit Card Abuse
• Minor Traffic Collision
• Hit and Run
• Verbal Threats
• Civil Landlord/Tenant Disputes
• Interference with Child Custody
• Suspicious Circumstances
• Suspicious Activity (National Security Awareness)
• Burglary of Coin-Op Machine
• Illegal Dumping
• Abandoned Vehicle
• Property/Patrol Checks
• Auto Inspection Requests (Scheduling)

The new OMEGA system of codes was completed in ProQA to provide more accurate statistical reporting of OMEGA events to further case review efforts,  "and to increase the number of successful event referrals to online, telephone, and other non-traditional reporting systems.”

Other revisions 

Several codes and Chief Complaint Protocol changes included in v6.4 were necessary to provide more non-emergent codes for OMEGA. The previous “Referral” selection options in the Sub-Chief Complaint selection of all Chief Complaints were removed as was the OMEGA “I =Information Only” option in Case Entry.

Another major change in v6.4 was the removal of individual weapon suffixes: C =Club, E = Explosive, G = Gun, K = Knife, M= Multiple weapon types, and O = Other. They have been replaced with a singular Weapon suffix (W).

As Dave Warner, Police Protocol, Academics, and Standards Associate, IAED, explained, “Over the years, we’ve found while agencies certainly care about a weapon involvement in an incident and its description, the overall response was not tailored differently based on the suffix involved. To simplify response configuration, and to allow double suffix use in future protocol versions, a single W = Weapon suffix was added.”

Protocol 119: Harassment/Stalking/Threat was rebuilt as another reflection of the changing times. The Key Questions added address Phone THREAT/HARASSMENT and Social Media THREAT/HARASSMENT. A new Axiom addresses the fluid nature of social media: “Posts of social media threats  may be short lived and deleted by the author. Obtaining specific information such as the author’s screen name, actual name, phone number, or other details  can be important for law enforcement.”

The PPDS, introduced at NAVIGATOR 2006, features 31 Chief Complaints tailored to meet the demands of the appropriate response while, at the same time,  avoiding undue risk at the scene to both responders and the public. Only one Chief Complaint, 136: Active Assailant (Shooter), has been added to the system during the past 15 years, which is not to say the system has remained in its original form. Each version builds on the former version and in anticipation of the next version to improve—among other features—granularity, delineation (Sub-Chief Complaints, for example), suffix refinement, and PDIs. A major shift allows greater jurisdictional approval of Key Questions and Determinant Code configuration.

In more recent versions of the PPDS, the Police Council of Standards has pivoted away from investigational questioning. “It’s the direction we’ve been going  for greater efficiency by eliminating questions that are not immediately relevant to response,” Warner said. “The questions are still available, but this provides agencies the ability to turn them on or off.”

Warner has been involved in PPDS development for nearly the life of the Protocol. While the process can prove frustrating, there’s also the satisfaction in  building a system that enhances scene safety, protects the public, and reflects changes in law enforcement and emergency communications.

“I take a lot of pride in where we are and where we’ve come from,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.” And its (PPDS) progress that will never rest. 

“We don’t implement Protocol because anyone is doing a bad job,” Knight said. “We implement Protocol to assist agencies in doing a better job. Expectations placed on calltakers and dispatchers are so much higher in today’s society than in the past. Protocol use assists a 911 operator to effectively and efficiently process all calls for service, even those they rarely or have never taken before.”

PPDS v7.0 is anticipated for release at the time of NAVIGATOR 2022 (April 27-29, Nashville, Tennessee, USA). 

1. Police1 Staff. “Police job applications decrease at most U.S. departments.” Police1. 2018; Dec. 6. police1.com/hiring/articles/police-job-applications-decrease-at-most-us-departments-9wm2KdOMS3rTxqZm (accessed Oct. 25, 2021).