CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Consider this: The New Castle 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. Either way, New Castle Police Sgt. James Wilson said police have to respond. Hang ups happen more often than people think and they cost local police departments time and money.
“It’s a waste; it ties up an officer,” Wilson said. “Also it makes it harder for the guy at the desk. When we receive a 911 call, it’s coming in as an emergency call. He basically has to stop everything he’s doing because you never know what it is.”
Wilson said the department has had 69 hang ups since Jan. 1. While many of the calls turn out to be misdials or children playing with the phone, he said the department cannot afford to make that assumption.
“What we do is we try and make phone contact with them, and we try to establish that everything’s fine within the house,” Wilson said. “If we do not make phone contact or we have any suspicion something’s wrong within the house, we do send an officer.”
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, said Kieran O'Leary, Westchester County Police spokesperson. 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.”
Instead of panicking and hanging up, Wilson said valuable police resources could be saved if callers would simply stay on the line and admit to making the error.
“If they do make a mistake and call 911, just stay on the line, talk to the officer on the desk, and say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake,’” Wilson said.