The city of Anchorage recently launched a 311 phone line with the aim of making it easier for residents to contact police about a non-emergency like a stolen car, in addition to reaching the city about other services.
People were having a lot of trouble remembering the Anchorage Police Department's non-emergency number, said MJ Thim, a police spokesman. The number "311" is much simpler to remember in a stressful situation, Thim said.
Meanwhile, Thim and other officials were hopeful that residents would be less likely to call 911 about events that aren't emergencies.
A 911 call is warranted for events that involve crimes of violence, or are life-threatening in nature, like a heart attack, Thim said.
"That's why we need that 911 line to remain open, for those calls," Thim said.
For a stolen car or a smashed-out window, however, call 311, Thim said. Police dispatchers will then direct callers on what to do next.
A car accident with injuries should result in a 911 call, but a fender-bender where no one was injured is a 311 call, Thim said.
The new 311 line also connects to other major city departments, like taxes, transit and street maintenance.
In the week after the city first advertised the new service, the phone line received between 150 and 240 calls a day, said city manager Bill Falsey. About 100 calls on average were going to APD, and the next most-popular was taxes and fees, Falsey said.
Falsey said the city planned to tweak the menu based on what the most popular items came up first.
Falsey said the 311 line was not a reaction to Anchorage's broader issues with crime, including a spike in property crime since 2014. He said the line had been in the works for months and fit into efforts by the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly to make government more accessible and easier to use.
Many cities in the Lower 48 already use 311 systems, Falsey said. He said the shift was straightforward because the city owned the number, and then it was a matter of contacting telecommunications companies.