RYE BROOK, N.Y. – Consider this: The Port Chester police 911 dispatcher picks up a call and there’s no answer on the other end.
The dispatcher calls the number back to ask if there is an emergency. No one picks up. What should the police do?
A 911 hang up may be an emergency or may be a mistake, but set procedures make that easier to figure out.
“It someone calls and it’s an, ‘oh darn’ moment and they hang up, our procedure is to verify if everything is OK. If there’s not an answer then we would have to go and check,” said Lt. Eugene Matthews, spokesman for the Rye Brook Police Department.
If the call comes from a cell phone, state police figure out where the problem comes from to see who has jurisdiction. “They have a way to find out through GPS locations and then send it to us,” Matthews said.
It would save police resources if people would just admit it if they've made a call in error, Westchester County Police spokesperson Kieran O’Leary said.
“We prefer people to stay on the line if they do dial 911 when they don’t mean to,” O’Leary said. “Because if they freak out or get embarrassed and hang up, we will send police to their door.”
New York State Police Lt. Hector Hernandez said the Hawthorne headquarters receives around 1,200 abandoned calls a month, including misdials, hang-ups and disconnected calls from cellphones. The number is so high because the state police dispatch for all 911 cellphone calls made in Westchester County, as well as providing dispatching services for the towns of Somers, Cortlandt, North Salem, Lewisboro, and Pound Ridge.
In 2009, the Westchester County Police received 92 calls in error, O'Leary said. In 2010, the numbered jumped to 107. By 2011, the number spiked to 317 when the county began patrolling Ossining. Through May of 2012, the department received 105 calls.
Westchester’s area code, 914, is just one digit away from the universal emergency number, but that may not be a factor in the large number of misplaced 911 calls, O'Leary said. However, the telephone system in local businesses may play a factor.
“At some businesses, in order to make an outgoing phone call, you need to dial the number nine first, then the number one, and then the ten-digit number you want to call,” O’Leary said. “So, naturally people dial the first two numbers and accidentally hit the one twice.”
Most police department policies require a patrol check on any 911 call that is not resolved in case a caller in trouble cannot speak over the phone. More often, it's a young child who dialed the number while playing with the phone. Still, O’Leary said, it is better to be safe than sorry.
“It comes with the territory; we don’t view it as an inconvenience,” O’Leary said. “It’s our duty to make absolutely sure that the public is safe so it’s not any sort of burden to us.”
Messages left with the City of Rye Police Department were not returned.