Non-emergency 911 calls waste taxpayers’ money

Amy Szabo

A man in Boynton Beach, Fla., dialed 911 in February to call and complain about the unsatisfactory service he received at a Burger King.

Non-emergency emergency calls, such as the Florida Burger King incident, are made famous through YouTube, where the caller and the dispatcher can be heard.

Though funny, they are nonetheless a serious matter for dispatchers.

In Portage County, Sheriff David Doak said the majority non emergency 911 calls to the sheriff’s office deal with questions about trick-or-treating or school closings due to inclement weather.

“Some people seem to think it’s an information number,” Doak said.

Such callers can be charged with a fourth degree misdemeanor for a non-emergency 911 call.

Lt. Jayme Cole of the Kent City Police Department said that according to Ohio law, a misdemeanor could result in a maximum fine of $250 and/or maximum jail time of 30 days.

Cole said two misdemeanors for misuse of the 911 emergency number were filed in 2008.

Doak said the sheriff’s office doesn’t charge for misusing 911 unless the caller becomes more obnoxious, for example, if they call over and over again.

“It’s not something that’s a general occurrence,” Doak said. “It’s inconsistent.”

Doak said a typical 911 call that can be considered a non-emergency is when someone dials and hangs up. In these cases, a deputy must be sent out to check the situation, Doak said.

Taxpayers must then pay for the deputy’s time in addition to the cost of operating the dispatch center.

“The cost comes from the general fund,” Doak explained, “but there is also a charge . on cell phone usage that goes toward the center.”

If a non-emergency emergency caller continues to call the center, each time they do so could result in an increased penalty, Doak said.

Of course, Doak said this is only possible if deputies are able to locate the caller.

As a warning, Doak also said parents can be held responsible for their children making the calls, whether or not they are first time offenders or repeat offenders.

Contact public affairs reporter Amy Szabo at [email protected]