Frivolous 911 Calls Irk Police, Dispatchers

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UPDATED: Thursday May 1, 2014 6:21 PM

Frivolous calls to 911 are wasting the time of dispatchers and distracting them from the mission of emergency response.

Tonight, the City Attorney's Office is issuing a warning: abuse 911 and you will be charged.

Their business is literally life and death.  It's why they start every call with the question, “What is your emergency?”

But too many callers are wasting their time with matters that are anything but.

"It's nonsense. It's just that. Nonsense,” said Bill Hedrick with the Columbus City Attorney’s Office.

He says abusing 911 is also a crime, one that his office has prosecuted hundreds of times.  Like after this call:

Dispatch: 911 what is your emergency?

Caller: Look ma'am. I have called twice already. I need an animal control person out here.  If I don't get an animal control person out here, then bring me somebody with a .45.

Dispatch: Why? What's wrong?

Caller: There's a huge possum.

Dispatch: A possum?

Caller: Yeah.

This woman was unhappy with her portions at a church food pantry:

Dispatch:  911 what is your emergency

Caller: Yes ma'am this church over here is being selfish over food and I want to talk to the police.

Dispatch: Ok. That doesn't sound like an emergency to me. Why are you calling 911?

Caller: Ma'am I don't think it up. I don't appreciate the way these people are being selfish over food.

Dispatch: I don't appreciate you tying up a life and death emergency line so hold on for the non-emergency line."

Many times, Hedrick says, alcohol is involved.  Like six back to back 911 calls from this man:

Caller: What do I got to do?  What I got to do? Jump in (expletive) traffic?

Dispatch: No sir. You shouldn't jump into traffic. And you should stop calling 911. We understand that you have a problem.

After swearing at the operator, the man called back moments later.

Dispatch: 911 what is your emergency?

Caller: I just talked to you Bro.

Dispatch: Yeah, you told me to kiss your backside. What can I do for you?

Caller: I’m sorry.

Hedrick says the calls might be amusing if what they're interfering with weren't so serious.  "It's not humorous if you think there are other people that are trying to call that have a legitimate emergency."

Improper use of 911 is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Over the last 10 years, the city of Columbus has charged more than 800 people in such cases.