Edmonton police say they are changing the way they handle non-emergency calls so dispatchers can be freed up to assist in real emergencies.

Calls to the non-emergency number will be handled by an interactive voice response (IVR) system. People who call 911 are now getting an estimated time of arrival.

“Last year we had over 500,000 calls into our non-emergency number, of which 50 per cent were information only calls where police response was not required,” said Insp. Erik Johnson.

“So we’re really hoping that this new system is going to assist us in ...getting to those calls that are emergencies.”\

Cheryl Schneider

Cheryl Schneider was leading a fitness class last July when two drunken men showed up at the door. She says she and her students had to barricade themselves inside while they waited 45 minutes for police. (CBC)

Edmonton 911 is answered by dispatchers who determine whether the calls are for police, fire or ambulance. Police calls get sent to evaluators.

Dispatchers will transfer all non-emergency calls to 911 to the IVR system.  IVR will automatically handle calls made to the non-emergency number, 780-423-4567 or  #377 on cell phones

The changes were announced on Wednesday, one day after a Mill Woods fitness trainer said that police had addressed her complaints about the 911 system.

Last year, Cheryl Schneider was leading an early morning fitness class when she said two drunken men showed up outside her studio at the North Millbourne Community Hall banging on the door to get in.

Worried, Schneider called 911 – but no one showed up to help her until 40 minutes later. 

"I was angry,” she recalled, adding that she was very disappointed in the response time and how her call for help was handled.

Schneider said she had to speak with three different dispatchers during her original call, and had to repeat her description of what was happening to each in turn.

Then, she said she was given a runaround about when to expect the police. The whole experience left her shaken.

"How could we let Edmonton get to a place where we can't trust EPS?" she asked.

However, Schneider said she has been working with EPS officers for the past year to help resolve some of the problems she experienced last year.

Johnson said the changes have been in the works for the past two years, though he acknowledged police acted on Schneider’s suggestion to change the language used by dispatcher to prioritize calls.