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Princeton Police Concerned About University’s 911 Call Procedures

The Princeton Police Department is reviewing 911 emergency call procedures on the Princeton University campus and other University properties.

“We’ve been in discussions with the prosecutor, and we met with the University. It was a very positive meeting and we discussed the plan for the future,” Police Chief David Dudeck told the Council at a recent meeting. “Part of that plan is sorting out 911 call issues. Right now we are working on figuring out the jurisdictional boundaries.”

Police Captain Nick Sutter said in a phone interview later that under New Jersey law, 911 calls in a community are supposed to go to one location, known as a public safety answering point.

Currently any 911 calls from a land line on campus or University buildings off campus are routed to the University’s Department of Public Safety. The department is staffed by certified dispatchers, and when necessary, the town’s police department is called for assistance. On the University Department of Public Safety’s website, people are instructed to call 911 in an emergency, and a University number, 609) 258-3333, in an emergency off campus or from a cell phone.

Sutter said police and University officials are trying to resolve the issue, and the first priority for police is making sure 911 calls made from off-campus buildings that are owned by the University go directly to the town’s 911 dispatcher.

“One of the problems is, people think they are dialing the town’s 911 dispatcher when they make the call off-campus, but they aren’t,” Sutter said.

The second issue is whether the University should be using a 911 number on campus. The College of New Jersey has its own 911 dispatchers for on-campus emergencies, but Montclair State University uses a non-911 number for on campus emergencies.

During public comment, resident Kate Warren said a car caught on fire on Edwards Place in December, and the owner called 911 but said no one picked up the phone. She then called a Princeton firehouse. Warren said she answered the phone because she happened to be there setting up for a banquet that would take place later that night.

“The woman was frantic, and said no one was answering the phone,” Warren said. “I called 911 myself and got the Princeton Borough dispatcher. It turned out she was calling Princeton University’s 911 system because she was calling from a University-owned property. By the time the fire department got there, the car was destroyed.”

But Princeton University officials say there is no record of anyone calling the University’s dispatch about a car fire that day. “Based on a review of records, no call was made to University dispatch,” University Spokesman Martin  Mbugua said. “The University learned about the fire from town fire officials after the fire had already progressed.”

A few days later, Mbugua said the University looked into the issue and the house was not part of the University’s 911 system. The Borough Police had no record of a call. They reviewed the issue and said it is possible the caller dialed the wrong number on her cell phone.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Faith

    I’ve had occasion to call 911 from campus twice, for my late parents who then lived just north of Princeton. The first time went perfectly, the PU Public Safety operator immediately sent my call to the police and an ambulance was at their house in minutes (before I could get there). The second time the PU Public Safety operator seemed confused about why I’d called them, and said I should call the local (Township?) police. Very frustrating, It worked out, but that was not the ideal response.

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