By Bonnie Culverhouse
Saving lives and dispatching first responders is always high stress, but even with a fully-staffed E911 center, executive director Angie Chapman says hang-up calls are testing their limits.
“We’ve had 28,582 911 calls for the year to date, which is very close to what we did for the entire year last year,” Chapman said recently. “Incidents of hang-up and open mic 911 calls are dramatically rising.”
In July, there were 123 such calls, in August, there were 148.
As of September 14, they were online to quadruple those numbers with 64 calls to 911 where operators could not get someone on the line.
“When someone calls 911 accidentally and stays on the line, that gives our telecommunicators verification that there is no emergency need for police, fire or medical,” Chapman said. “The calls I’m talking about are stretching the resources of every law enforcement agency and possibly medical, as well.”
The calls she describes have no one on the line so, her operators are required to contact law enforcement to dispatch and verify there is no emergency.
“Most of the time, it’s children playing on the phone,” Chapman said. “But more often than not, lately, it’s people storing their phones incorrectly or misusing a Smart watch and not knowing how all that operates. It triggers that emergency mode on the phone, and we can’t get their attention.”
Operators can often hear background noise, but law enforcement must still go to that location to ensure no one is in trouble.
“When they (law enforcement) tell you they are overworked, they are right,” she said. “We can’t do anything about it because we are required to send them to investigate.”
Properly storing a phone may cut down on these calls, Chapman pointed out.
“Don’t just throw it in a pocket or a cupholder,” she said. “And please, do not let children play with phones.”
A phone with no service is still a problem.
“If it has a battery that is charged, it will and can trigger a 911 call,” Chapman said. “If you have a pay-as-you-go phone, when they are out of minutes, that next call that they try to make triggers a 911 call. And if they are not on the line to explain it was an accident, then we have to send out law enforcement to check on it.”
On her previous shift, Chapman said the first nine phone calls she received were from two different mobile homes located in the same park.
“We could hear children laughing about it in the background,” she said. “Minden Police had to be sent out to check it out and tell the adults to take the phones away from the kids.”
These back-to-back calls take dispatchers away from real emergencies.
“But we can’t afford not to go check,” she said.
When there are chronic malicious calls that are not accidental, Chapman said she is not opposed to pressing charges.
“The parish doesn’t have an ordinance to cover this,” she said, “so I’m assuming it would fall under La. Revised Statute 14:59, criminal mischief.”
That law states the supervising adult would pay not more than $500 or serve a prison sentence of not more than six months in the parish jail.
“We’ve done it in past,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s a child who refuses to give the phone to an adult. I would not be opposed to the adult and child performing community service.”