Be careful who you call

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, May 16, 2013

A few weeks ago, the nation celebrated National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, recognizing the many working under high-pressure conditions to facilitate emergency response. Often, they must simultaneously work to calm 911 callers down, get all relevant information and dispatch emergency responders. As with any job dealing with the public, these telecommunicators experience lulls and eruptions in activity. In peak call times, what they don’t need are the jokers who, either knowingly or unknowingly, call 911 for frivolous reasons.

Take the Florida mom who called the emergency number because she wanted officers to teach her misbehaving about respect for authority—when police responded the intoxicated woman was arrested for assaulting an officer and child neglect. Another woman, also intoxicated, called 911 to request that Texas sheriff’s office deputies make a cigarette delivery to her and ended up charged with misdemeanor abuse of 911. A Tennessee man called 911 dispatchers nine times demanding a ride so he could pick up beer. Another man spent the weekend in jail after he called 911 to complain that a McDonald’s worker was rude and didn’t give him his orange juice.

In Washington, the 911 system has been used for a variety of reasons: to try to find out if the Washington bridge is closed, during bad weather; to report large women walking down the street with blank stares; to ask for the phone number for Domino’s Pizza.

But 911 is not a toy. It’s the lifeline for the people who are experiencing an emergency situation. Every frivolous call taken by dispatches interferes with the rescue process of another. Those calls should be punished accordingly.

Maximum sentence for abuse of 911: 20 days in jail. Perhaps 20 days in the Beaufort County jail would be enough of a lesson to keep our frivolous 911 callers from picking up the phone.