Butt dials cause problems for 911, local law enforcement

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Director of Webster Parish E-911 Communications Angie Chapman addressed the Police Jury this week trying to find out a solution for a recent influx of 911 hangup calls that the department has experienced this year.

“One thing that we are struggling with right now is that the incidents of 911 hangup calls and 911 open line calls that we have are dramatically rising. In July we had 123, in August we had 148 total for the month, and this month in September, we’re already at 48.”

The calls that Chapman is referring to are those in which someone calls 911 accidentally and they stay on the line. The problem that it poses for local law enforcement is that they are required to go out and check the location the call was made from to ensure that there’s no emergency need for police, fire, or medical.

“These calls that I’m talking about are stretching the resources for every law enforcement agency and possibly medical as well. Because this number of calls that I’m reporting, no one is on the line, or we can’t get the attention of anyone on the line, so law enforcement has to be dispatched to verify there is no emergency,” said Chapman.

“Most of the time it is children playing on the phone, but more often than not lately it is people storing their phones incorrectly or maybe misusing a smartwatch and not knowing how all that operates, so it triggers that emergency call on the phones and then we can’t get their attention.”

There are a few things that individuals can do to stop these calls from happening. First off is to not let children play with phones. Even if they do not have service, most cellular devices that still have batteries can make a call to emergency services.

On top of that, individuals can educate themselves on their phones shortcut to call 911. Most modern phones have a secondary method of contacting 911 in the case where an individual can’t access their screen. For example, on the iPhone, this is done by clicking the side button 5 times in quick succession. For android, this can be done by holding down the power button for five seconds. A prompt to make an emergency call will then appear on the screen.

There are other shortcuts that phones can have to contact 911, so it’s best for individuals to educate themselves on the ways their smart devices can do this.

Lastly, in the case that an individual realizes that they’ve accidentally dialed 911, it is best to stay on the line and explain it was an accident, so more resources aren’t dedicating to finding out whether it is a real emergency or not. 

“It stretches the police department super thin, having to run down all these calls. I heard on the radio last night, they needed a response to a wreck, and they were unable to send someone because they were dealing with some of this issue that we were having last night,” said Chapman.

“When they tell you that they’re overworked, they’re right. And we can’t do anything about it because we are required to send law enforcement to investigate.”

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