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October 4, 2010

Non-emergent 911 calls on rise in Wyo.

By Lindsey Kroskob
The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — "Pocket dialing," non-emergent and prank calls to the 911 emergency lines at the Laramie County Combined Communication Center increase every year as cell phones become more popular, officials say.

And, they add, tying up those lines with non-emergent calls can take away from those who really need help.

"When there is a serious situation or emergency that requires immediate police, fire, medical response, that's when people need to call," director Glen Crumpton said. "When non-emergency phone calls come over, you're using those resources inappropriately and diverting their ability to answer potential medical calls and life-threatening situations."

He said the calls range from pranks and accidental dials to stray animal and noise complaints.

"It seems right now it's a number of convenience," Crumpton said. "They don't have those non-emergent numbers listed in their phone and they don't have a phonebook available, so the number they dial is 911."

The center has five dispatchers on at all times. Two are designated solely to emergent calls.

This year they've received more than 34,000 911 calls.

Crumpton said the number of calls each day can range from 50 into the hundreds, depending on the day of the week and what may be going on around town.

It's heavier in the summer because more people are out, he said, and in January, February and March because of weather- related accidents.

He said the center doesn't track how many non-emergent calls dispatchers get but is working on a system to do so.

Said dispatcher Scott Thomas said, "It's always bad to abuse 911. The biggest problem is that people aren't aware of our non-emergent number."

He said a lot of times he will have people call back on the other line so the emergency lines aren't tied up.

"For the most part, we are all very understanding," Thomas said. "When people call us, whether you think it's an emergency or not, you do need help. Otherwise you wouldn't have called."

He also encourages parents to talk to their kids about the importance of using 911 only during emergencies.

Just a couple weeks ago, Thomas took a call from a young boy who called "because he was bored."

Thomas said calling because you didn't know where else to call is understandable, but it's better to look up the non-emergent number first.

He said "pocket dialing" is also happens at least a couple times a day.

Dispatchers can usually tell the call was accidental, but he said anyone with an open face phone should lock their keypad before storing the phone in their pocket or purse.

"It's not really abuse," he said. "It's just that people don't think about it."

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