Call taker Heather Andrews handled the number one call on this year’s list and said when someone calls 9-1-1 just to complain about customer service at a business, time is taken away from helping people with real life safety issues. E-Comm photo

Fast-food restaurant being closed tops list of worst 911 calls

Nuisance and abandoned 911 calls waste police resources

A fast-food restaurant not being open 24-hours-a-day as advertised is this year’s worst 911 call made in B.C.

E-Comm, the province’s largest 911 centre, released its top 10 list of head scratching calls, ranging from a store not accepting a return of shoes without the original box to a gas station attendant filling with the wrong type of fuel.

In addition to consumer complaints, questions about vehicle malfunctions made their way to 911 lines including someone calling to find out how to turn off their vehicle headlights and another caller reporting that their wiper blades were broken.

These seem laughable, but when you consider that it ties up time for a dispatcher, and possibly a police officer that should be dealing with a real emergency, it moves from funny to costly or even life-threatening.

Abuse of 911 may be partly due to people either not realizing the police have non-emergency numbers, or just not wanting to look it up.

“Everybody has been told 911 is the police,” said Const. James Grandy, media liaison for the Penticton RCMP.

He adds people should take the time to look up the local number when it is not an emergency.

“I think patience is also wearing thin on people in general. People want everything as soon as possible,” said Grandy. “It is just easier for someone to dial 911 and apologize later: ‘Is this not an emergency? It feels like an emergency to me.’”

E-Comm’s top 10 reasons not to call 911 in 2018:

1. To complain a local fast food restaurant wasn’t open 24-hours-a-day, as advertised

2. To complain a store won’t take shoes back without the original box

3. To complain that a gas station attendant put the wrong type of gas in their car

4. To report a rental company provided the wrong-sized vehicle for a customer’s reservation

5. To report a restaurant wouldn’t redeem a customer’s coupon

6. To ask for help turning off their car lights

7. To report their vehicle’s windshield wipers had stopped working

8. To find out where their car had been towed

9. To report a lost jacket

10. To ask if the clocks move forward or backward during the spring time change

Beyond the nuisance calls, there is the problem of abandoned 911 calls. According to Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager, abandoned 911 calls come in at second place on the list of top 10 calls for service, right behind theft.

Related:Penticton not an unsafe city, according to RCMP superintendent

“If you can imagine that we are at about 20,000 calls for service in Penticton detachment area, 1,200 of them, over 10 per cent, are abandoned 911s,” said De Jager, reporting to Penticton city council. “That is a police car rolling to a butt dial.”

De Jager said that it is very rare for an abandoned 911 to be a situation where someone really needs help and has dropped the phone. But the majority of them, he said, add up to an “incredible waste of resources.”

Once the system is triggered, Grandy explained, the police have to investigate and attend the address, making sure everybody is OK.

“That usually involves us having to enter into the residence, regardless. We have to make sure everything and everybody in the house looks fine before we can say it wasn’t an emergency,” said Grandy. “It is not only inconvenient for the person who accidentally dialled 911, but it is also time-consuming for us to have to go through that entire process each time.”

Grandy and De Jager said the public can help reduce the wasted resources by being careful not to dial 911 accidentally, especially on phones with built-in emergency features. But if you do, don’t hang up.

“We have to get back in touch with that person and sometimes that is the most time-consuming part. Some people don’t answer, or they are away. We have to come and physically meet with the person,” said Grandy. “Stay on the line if possible is the best thing, and to answer all the questions. If the police call back and need to speak with you further, be available for that.

“We have to make sure they are OK. We won’t just go away. We won’t say OK, he said it was a mistake we will leave it at that. To save everybody time, just be available, own up to the mistake.”

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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