Winnipeg is the latest city to create a new telephone hotline intended to take the heat off 911 dispatchers.
Later this month, the Manitoba capital will officially launch a new 311 call centre to field public inquiries relating to city hall business and other non-emergencies.
The head of Winnipeg's police association is hoping the new hotline will mean fewer nuisance calls to 911. Mike Sutherland said sometimes up to 20 per cent of calls to 911 aren't emergencies.
Some people in Winnipeg have called 911 to report a towed car and to ask the time of day.
"The difficulty is when you have somebody tying up the lines for a relatively trivial matter. If you have something really urgent, even seconds can make all the difference," Sutherland said. "You have people thinking that their own personal emergency is a true emergency."
City hall officials refuse to discuss details of the hotline until the number is launched in a few weeks. But the idea has been in the works for years. Mayor Sam Katz first moved ahead with the system in 2005.
The call centre is expected to cost about $31 million over the first five years.
Sutherland said he hopes the new number will be accompanied by a hefty education campaign that will convince people to use 311 instead of calling emergency dispatchers.
"We're going to be cautiously optimistic that there will be some reduction in terms of 911 so the resources can be directed appropriately," he said. "But the proof will be in the pudding."
Other cities that have set up 311 phone lines include Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal.