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In the three decades since the 911 phone number was established, police departments across the country have been driven batty by ordinary calls clogging emergency lines. D.C. police have tried to persuade locals not to call the emergency number when, say, their recycling bin goes missing or they lock their keys in the car. But who wants to call boring old 727-1010 when the excitement of 911 is just three digits away? Now, help is on its way. According to Cmdr. David McDonald, who runs D.C.’s Criminal Justice Information Division, the department should have 311—a new nonemergency number just as memorable as 911—in place by Aug. 31. “Call 311 if there’s an accident and no one’s injured, or if there’s somebody yelling on the corner, or if you wake up and your car’s gone,” says McDonald. “We’ll get there as soon as possible. But 911 is for crime in progress or life-threatening.”

Reporting by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Stephanie Mencimer, and Michael Schaffer.

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