You Ask, We Investigate: Non-Emergency Calls Keep 911 Dispatchers Busy

Fox 24

In this week’s ‘You Ask, We Investigate’ report, Fox 24’s Katelynn Zoellner spoke with dispatchers about why 911 abuse is more serious than you think.

911 dispatchers are there to take your calls around the clock. Their work is vital to keeping our communities safe.

However, not every call is an emergency, like a call about a missing dog or a call seeking general information such as a phone number. While the calls may seem innocent, they can put other people in life or death situations at risk. 

“It can be a big problem, especially when they are non-emergency calls,” said Carla Holcroft, 911 Communications Director at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “When someone doesn’t have an emergency, that delays response to somebody who does have an emergency.”

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it averages about 187,000 non-emergency calls a year. That’s a high number considering it takes about 10,000 emergency calls during that same time frame.

Scott Ballard has been a 911 dispatcher at the sheriff’s office for five years. He said part of the problem is technology. More people are carrying cell phones than ever before, which creates a new set of issues.

“There is no 911 call that doesn’t got unanswered,” said Ballard. “Even if we can assume that it is a pocket dial, because we can hear it’s shifting around, we have to assume it’s an emergency until we actually lay eyes on that person and make sure that they’re physically okay.”

Another problem is that people just don’t know where else to turn when conflict strikes. Dispatchers remind you to make sure it’s a real emergency before picking up the phone to call 911. 

“We want to respond and we want to give them the help they deserve, because when they dial 911 they expect to get help,” said Holcroft. “When someone does not have an emergency, that delays response to someone who does have an emergency. So, you don’t want to take away from that.”

If you are not experiencing a real emergency, you’re encouraged to call the Washington County Sheriff Office’s non-emergency phone line. The number is (479) 444-5712.

Is there something in your community that you want to know more about, we want to investigate it. You can send your questions to Katelynn at KZoellner@KNWA.com.

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