(WHDH)– What if police couldn’t answer your 911 call because they were tied up investigating a mistake: Someone who called by accident. 7 Investigates found the number of those calls is increasing, and they’re diverting emergency crews away from people really need help! Hank Phillippi Ryan has the story.
The phone rings in the Littleton Police Department 911 call center. Bill Harrold, the dispatch supervisor, answers the call, “911, this line is recorded. What is your emergency?”
Bill is ready for any call that comes in. “Hello? You dial 911?” he asks the caller.
But sometimes, a 911 dispatcher will only hear background noise on the other end of the line.
“911, this line is recorded. What’s your emergency? Hello?” Bill asks another caller, but no one responds on the other end of the line.
Similar calls come into the police department.
“911, this line is recorded. What’s your emergency? Hello?” Another dispatcher asks a caller, but all she hears is a noise like someone is running.
“911, what’s your emergency?” Another dispatcher asks. When no one answers, she tries to see if they need help. “Hello? If you need police, press one. If you need fire, press two. If you need EMS, press three.”
Dispatchers use high high-tech equipment to try to trace the caller’s location.
And in Littleton, police are sent to investigate every call.
“We have to send someone there to rule out the fact it’s not an emergency,” Littleton Police Chief Matthew Pinard says.
But often, these calls are mistakes. Littleton PD says misdials make up about 40% of their 911 calls.
“911, this line is recorded. What’s your emergency?” A dispatcher asks.
“I don’t have one. It dialed it by itself in my pocket,” a caller responds.
Other callers tell police they didn’t mean to call.
“Oh, I must have butt-dialed. I’m so sorry,” a caller says.
“Oh, my watch dialed you. I’m sorry,” another caller says.
It’s happening all over New England.
“It’s nerve-racking for sure,” Bill says.
7 Investigates found Boston police get about 20 mistaken 911 calls a day.
Nantucket police say up to 70% of the calls they got this summer were misdials.
Quincy police say since the beginning of the year, they’ve gotten more than 5300 accidental calls.
That’s 5300 times worried dispatchers like Laurie Brancaccio had to figure out if there was a life-or-death emergency on the line.
“You never know what’s on the other end of the 911 call when you pick it up. It’s been overwhelming some days,” Laurie says.
“Other calls are coming in at the same time, you have to prioritize, and you know, we could potentially not get to the right person at the right time,” Bill says.
Why the increase in pocket and purse dials? Experts believe it’s the proliferation of smartphones, watches, and gadgets.
“It’s modern technology, and they’re making it easier for people to get through to 911,” Bill says.
But here’s how you can help: if your device accidentally calls 911, police say, please stay on the line and explain what happened.
“Don’t just hang up and walk away or power your phone off. Just confirm that it is a misdial. You won’t get in trouble for it,” Chief Pinard says.
One way to prevent misdials: make sure the home screen on your phone is locked before putting it in your purse or pocket.
For more information: FCC: Avoid Making Accidental Wireless 911 Calls
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