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Phony 911 Calls Continue, Arrest Is Made

March 20, 2009 11:20 AM
by Isabel Cowles
An increase in false alarms continues putting stress on emergency response systems nationwide, but Sacramento has made an arrest this year.

Sacramento Man Arrested for Phony 911 Calls

Last summer, a number of bizarre emergency phone calls had some civilians laughing and police scrambling: One man called 911 when Subway improperly prepared his sandwich, another called 911 when asked to do the laundry, and another called when he could not find a taxi cab.

Unfortunately, the phony 911 calls haven't slowed down. A Sacramento man was arrested in January for "allegedly making hundreds of nuisance and false calls to the 911 emergency assistance system," according to The Sacramento Bee.
Fake calls to police may seem funny, but authorities nationwide warn that false alarms hamper their ability to respond to true emergencies.

According to MSNBC, “in cities large and small, police officials and system administrators warn that 911 systems are being choked with clueless, frivolous, even prank, calls.”

Some false alarms are more sinister than others: Firefighters in Minneapolis have suited up three times to put out nonexistent fires announced by the same caller. In Nashville, Tenn., Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Amanda Sluss said, “Bomb threats, robberies in progress; a child [saying] they are being held hostage,” are among calls the emergency system has received.

Background: Time wasted and possible solutions

An increase in false 911 phone calls hampered the Nashville police's ability to respond to real emergencies last year. According to WSMV, the local NBC affiliate, "What makes the false calls worse is that many of them are coming in overnight when police manpower is already at a premium."

In 2005, Hawaii established a law that made it a misdemeanor for anyone to make false 911 calls. "Police have the ability to track 911 calls from land lines, which has led to a decrease in the number of false reports. Police will soon be able to quickly trace cellular calls," The Honolulu Advertiser reported at the time.

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Related Topic: 911 tragedies

In 2007, the Associated Press reported that a woman at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles died in the emergency room after 911 dispatchers refused to contact paramedics or an ambulance to take her to another facility.

A 5-year-old boy called 911 in 2006 when his mother collapsed on the kitchen floor. "Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you gonna be in trouble," the 911 operator told him. According to the Associated Press, "Detroit police spokesman James Tate said it was at least an hour before authorities arrived, but he said he did not have details. By that time, the boy's mother had died, he said."

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