EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – The Eastchester Police Department 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. Either way, Eastchester Police Lt. Robert Jensen said, police have to respond. If there is no response to a call back, officers are sent to the location to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We call back, but if there’s no response on the other end of the line we have to send a police car to the house to investigate,” he said. “We get numerous fake 911 calls from children playing with the phone.”
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 about 1,200 abandoned calls a month, including misdials, hang-ups and disconnected calls from cell phones. The number is so high because the state police dispatch for all 911 cell phone calls made in Westchester County, and also dispatches for the municipalities 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 number jumped to 107. By 2011, the number spiked to 317 when the county began patroling Ossining. Through May of 2012, the department had received 105 calls.
Jensen said that it is important for residents to remember that 911 should only ever be dialed in emergency. The Eastchester Police Department non-emergency line (914-961-3464) should be contacted for general inquiries
“We want people to call if they see an emergency, but people should be selective in calling 911,” he said. “We can’t tie up the lines for reasons other than emergencies or crimes. For basic information, call our regular number.”
While most 911 hang-ups turn out to be benign, 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.”