911, (UK=999) or 311 (UK=101) – which one should you call?

911 (or 999 for UK) is a number that everyone knows, children from a young age are taught to call 911 if there is an emergency, but do you know when you should call 311 instead? Did you know you can report a crime using our website?

Every year there are many… MANY 911 calls, but too many of them are not emergency calls. In fact last year 20% to 25% of all calls were classified as ‘inappropriate use of 911’. They get calls asking for taxi numbers, opening hours of the local convenience store and over Christmas there supposedly was a call from someone reporting a queue jumper in the Santa Grotto.

911? or not

Often when people panic they remember the 911 number and call it. They are there 24/7 365 days a year to help you, but if it’s identified as being a non-emergency then you may have to wait for another operator. We need to free up the 911 lines as there could be a life or death emergency waiting to get through.

Advice for calling 911:

  • call when it’s an emergency
  • a crime is in progress
  • someone suspected of a crime is nearby
  • when there is danger to life
  • when violence is being used or threatened

If you don’t need an emergency response, then you should call 311 (or 101 UK) or use our online reporting form on police website. This could be to report a crime or to seek advice, for example your car has been stolen, your property has been damaged or you suspect drug use or dealing in your neighborhood.

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Do you think you know when to call what number? Take our quiz and see how you do!

This quiz is made by: https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/

Question #1: It’s not an emergency but a man’s just knocked on my door saying that there has been a problem with the water pressure and he needs to check my pressure… He has no ID and I saw on TV that there have been a lot of distraction burglaries in this area. I have seen him walking towards my neighbour’s houses down the street.

As the potential offender is still in the area, you should call 911 so police officers can attend if appropriate. If it happened in the past, it's still worth reporting it to 311 to inform your local policing team as there may be a pattern.

Question #2: The traffic is not moving, I think that there is a problem with the traffic lights.

This isn't an emergency unless it causes a danger. However, we appreciate it is annoying and will try and help on 101. We will attempt to contact whoever owns the lights, it would be useful if you could tell us who owns them - that information should be marked on the actual traffic lights.

Question #3: Drunks are fighting outside your home, or even throwing stones at windows, and you feel frightened.

You need police help immediately and the situation is still in progress with the offenders on the scene.

Question #4: There is an accident on the motorway.

All motorway incidents should be reported on 911.

Question #5: Someone has stolen my mobile phone.

We can take your details on 101 and avoid occupying the emergency line. If you have a contract phone it is also important you let your phone provider know. However if the offender is still on scene or has just left, you should dial 911.

Question #6: There is a car parked on double yellow lines or parked outside my house.

It's neither. You will need to contact your local council.

Question #7: My husband has not returned from work, he is normally home by now.

If it's out of character for your husband not to return and you are unable to get hold of him how you normally would, then let us know on 101. It's not a 911 call unless you have reason to believe he's in danger. It would be useful if you have made initial enquiries with work/family/friends to ensure he is not just running late and run out of phone battery.

Question #8: You need the number of a local Indian restaurant.

This is neither a 911 nor a 311 call - try directory enquiries.