Rise in 911 hang-up calls at Bountiful dispatch concern authorities

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BOUNTIFUL, Utah -- With 911 hang-up calls on the rise in the Bountiful area, police say it’s interfering with officers responding to real emergencies.

Emergencies rang in Wednesday evening, as the three dispatchers on duty answered on their head sets.

“Police and fire dispatch,” recited dispatcher Amy Woodall. “What’s the address of your emergency?”

Lately, those calls for help have led to a lot of dead ends.

“Dispatchers were not able to go even 10 minutes without more of those calls coming in,” said dispatch supervisor Donna Walters.

She said they’ve been dealing with a big spike this month in 911 hang-ups.

So far this year, Walters said, the number of hang-up calls they’ve received total nearly 1,500.

By their calculations, that averages around 10 calls a day.

“Sometimes we get them over, and over, and over from the same number because it will disconnect,” Woodall said. “We realize it’s just a kid playing on the phone.”

While many are simply kids playing around, much of the calls they get come down to accidental pocket dials.

They also see a fair amount come from kids who are playing with disconnected cellphones, because parents don’t realize that the phones can still make 911 calls.

Dispatchers must call back to find out if it’s an emergency. If no one answers, they have to call out officers.

“Most of the time we’re going to send two officers,” Walters said. “We’re going to treat it like it’s an emergency.”

And that, she said, can take 20 minutes of those officers’ time, to find out they’re wasting their time.

It’s not just a headache for them, but a nuisance paid for by taxpayers.

“It’s really troublesome, because it pulls us away from the real emergencies,” Walters said.

So here’s a little tip: Lock your phone screen.

If an accidental 911 call happens, Walters and Woodall said don’t hang up.

“Stay on line,” Woodall said. “Just let us know there’s not an emergency, so we’re not expending extra resources trying to find out what's going on.”