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In Howard County, call 911 if you are requesting service from a police officer or other public safety representative. Don't call 911 if you are merely requesting information from the police or fire department.

That's the message from county emergency operators, who say the new county 911 phone system implemented last week has created some confusion for callers.

"We've had some turmoil in the transition period," said Paul Hajek, chief of the county's Bureau of Central Communications. "The rule to remember is, if you need an officer to respond to an incident or an emergency, then dial 911. Otherwise, don't call 911."

The new system, designed to speed up emergency response time, met with a few snags in its first week. People seem to be confused about what the new 911 line is and how it should be used, Hajek said.

Some points to remember:

* Even for a minor incident, such as if you are reporting a stolen bicycle or vandalism of your car windshield, you are askedto call 911, since such calls require a police officer's presence orassistance.

* If operators are dealing with more serious calls, your call will take its place in line.

* If you are inquiring aboutwhether a particular officer is on duty at the police department or if you are calling to ask about neighborhood crime watch programs, dial the police department's administrative number, 313-2266.

* If you are calling the communications bureau for general information, theadministrative number is 313-2200. In about 10 days, that number will be changed to a new number that will be advertised in local newspapers.

Some residents on the county borders also reported dialing 911 only to get the Carroll County emergency dispatch center, which then had to re-route calls back to Howard County dispatch.

That problem is a rare but ongoing one that has nothing to do with the new 911 line, said Mike Munshaur, supervisor of the Carroll County emergency operations center.

The problem occurs because some residents have telephone exchanges that don't correspond to the community in which they live, Munshaur said. For instance, a resident may live in a Howard County town but have a Carroll County exchange.

"Every now and then, we'll get a call that we have to send back to Howard County," Munshaur said. "But we transfer them back at the touch of a button."

Another snag was that police officials failed to contact burglar alarm companies about the changes in the county phone system. As a result, alarm companies reported delays in trying to make emergency contact with county police.

Alarm companies have since been notified about the changes, said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman.

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