Urgent Matters

Prosecution needed to halt 911 abuses

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A former suburban Chicago trustee reportedly has made 35 non-emergency calls to 911 during the first three months of this year, a pattern of behavior that is worthy of prosecution.

The daily newspaper still is one of the great bargains in America. I pay $8 per month for my subscription, and each morning the paper is waiting for me at the end of the driveway when I take Tyler the Wonder Dog on his sojourn through the neighborhood. Even if I paid the newsstand price, where else can you be informed, entertained and stimulated, all for a buck?

Occasionally, leafing through the pages leads me to an idea for a column. Such a thing happened last week, when I was appalled to read about the former trustee of a suburban Chicago village who allegedly has made 35 calls to 911 this year — a noteworthy amount, especially considering that the year is a scant three months old.

In none of these instances was she accosted or threatened, nor had she taken ill or been injured in any way, according to the Pioneer Press, an affiliate of the Chicago Sun-Times. Nor had anyone else been accosted, threatened, sickened or injured around her. Rather, she reportedly felt that the minutes taken at village board meetings when she was a member did not accurately reflect her comments and positions. So, she called 911 — again, 35 times — to ensure that what she said would be recorded verbatim, in order to eliminate the possibility of misinterpretation. According to the newspaper, her goal was to "memorialize issues I have addressed in government."

You can't make this stuff up.

What I find most curious about this episode — yes, believe it or not, there is something more curious — is that the local police department declined to press charges, despite having the option to do so. Instead, they reportedly let a social worker handle the matter. The woman later was admonished by a judge and told to refrain from making future non-emergency calls to 911, but that was during a completely unrelated court case.

The decision not to press charges is something that I have difficulty comprehending. Thirty-five times this woman took up the valuable time of a 911 telecommunicator — a dangerous situation, because call-takers and dispatchers can't deal with true emergencies when they have to contend with the ersatz ones.

This has to stop; if it doesn't, sooner or later someone is going to die. And the only way to stop it is to make examples of the people who do this and to impose sanctions that hurt. Perhaps this woman has mental issues. Perhaps she's just a complete moron. Perhaps she was given a pass, because she's a former government official--it wouldn't be the first time. None of these hypothetical scenarios should matter to the police. Because the police believed that they had the option to arrest the woman, it is logical to surmise that she indeed broke a law; if so, the officers should have arrested her and then let the court system sort it out. That's how the process is supposed to work.

Even if she eventually was exonerated due to mitigating circumstances, at least she would have had to defend herself in court, a time-consuming and expensive endeavor that might cause her to think twice the next time she contemplates doing something like this. And I would make sure that word spread around the campfire, to deter others from engaging in such lunacy.

Certainly, there are instances when a person legitimately believes that their situation is an emergency when it is not, and police should have some latitude in terms of whether to put on the handcuffs. But this clearly is not one of those instances.

Some will say that cracking down on 911 abuses might result in people hesitating to make an emergency call when it actually is warranted, with dire consequences. I don't share that fear. Most people instinctively will recognize a true emergency when they see it; even in borderline cases — for example, a parent who accidentally has locked his small child in his car far from home — the prospect of having to pay a hefty fine isn't going to stop them from making the call. Similarly, most people instinctively will know when a situation — like the one described in this column — isn't an emergency.

Those who are unable to discern the difference should be held accountable and as such should bear the burden of justifying their actions in a court of law. Those who field emergency calls are lifesavers — and their time shouldn't be wasted.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

resham (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

She was a trustee of a village, what is this? Probably some type of governing committee member and being such the police didn't want to press charges against her for fear that she would vote negatively at there next budget hearing.

If this was you or me we would be in front of a judge with a big fine and some community service.

This brings up a problem that is as large of a concern as abuse of 911 and that is that our judical system is fractured and in need of serious repair.

We need a backup review board such as an impartial citizens review board to overlook the ridiculous biased judical proceedings to make sure that the system is fair and impartial but of course even after some time of the existence of such a committee that I propose it would also become corrupt.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2013

There seem to be many articles lately beating the drum on stopping abusive calls to 911. While I see this as an important issue I've also seen a reverse argument. In another suburb of Chicago, the municipality advertised in their local newsletter to use 911 for ALL calls to the local police department. Yes, they emphasized for both emergency and non-emergency type calls. Their theory was that no matter which number phone number a citizen used (911, 847-xxx-xxxx, etc.), the call is routed to the same dispatcher(s).

Now this was several years ago and their policy may have changed again since then. But this could become an issue with any enforcement of abusive 911 calls, especially with cell phone use so prevalent. What happens when one village says it's ok to use 911 for non-emergency where the neighboring village wants _only_ emergency calls through 911?

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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