911 abuse dif­fi­cult to curb


Po­lice want a mech­a­nism for deal­ing with peo­ple who use 911 for pur­poses other than crime re­port­ing and emer­gen­cies.

Across On­tario, there have been nu­mer­ous re­ports in re­cent months of peo­ple di­alling 911 to com­plain about am­ber alerts for miss­ing chil­dren.

Peo­ple have also di­alled the emer­gency hot-line to com­plain about bad food in restau­rants and ice-cream trucks ring­ing their bells out­side se­niors homes.

Lo­cally, there have been re­ports of peo­ple call­ing 911 be­cause of rac­coons in their neigh­bour­hood be­hav­ing er­rat­i­cally or dogs bark­ing at all hours. Other lo­cal abuses in­volved bug in­fes­ta­tions and a nine-year-old girl who called po­lice be­cause her mother made her tidy her room.

The Nor­folk OPP also re­ceived a call in re­cent months from some­one who bought a new cell phone and wanted to en­sure that 911 was work­ing.

This sum­mer, Den­nis Travale, chair of the Nor­folk Po­lice Ser­vices Board, asked the Nor­folk OPP to de­ter­mine whether in­di­vid­u­als can be sanc­tioned for th­ese abuses. This in­cludes peo­ple who do noth­ing to curb ac­ci­den­tal di­allings.

Due to li­a­bil­ity is­sues and out of con­cern for pub­lic safety, the OPP in­ves­ti­gate all 911 calls.

Even when call­ers in­sist ev­ery­thing is OK or say the call was ac­ci­den­tal, po­lice in­ves­ti­gate to en­sure call­ers aren’t mak­ing dis­claimers un­der duress.

It can take two front-line of­fi­cers as long as 30 min­utes to de­ter­mine whether a 911 call is le­git­i­mate. It can take longer if all po­lice have to go on is the lo­ca­tion of the cell tower that re­layed the sig­nal.

Nor­folk’s PSB wants curbs in place be­cause this is a waste of ex­pen­sive re­sources. How­ever, Insp. Joe Varga, head of the Nor­folk OPP, says there are no easy fixes. Charges can be laid, Varga said, but the courts are un­likely to con­vict ex­cept in the most se­ri­ous cases.

“It has to be bla­tant and overt and ha­rass­ing in na­ture,” Varga said.

Travale was dis­ap­pointed but held out hope the prov­ince or fed­eral govern­ment will tighten up leg­is­la­tion in this area.

“It’s some­thing that’s go­ing to be with us un­til the govern­ment de­cides what it wants to do with the is­sue,” Travale said at the Sept. 4 meet­ing.

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