Abandoned 911 calls continue to claim the number one spot on the top five types of calls police in Victoria receive.
According to a quarterly report, from July to September police received 1,993 abandoned 911 calls in Victoria and 341 in Esquimalt, for a grand total of 2,343 calls.
In comparison, the second most popular call in Victoria was for an unwanted person (1,563 calls) and checking on someone’s well-being came in at third with 1,105 calls.
The report states that unintentional 911 calls continue to impact all 911 centres across Canada. A large number of the calls are initiated using unregistered phones that are purchased as “pay as you go” devices, which generate multiple 911 calls at one time.
On one occasion last May, Victoria police received 63 911 calls from one phone in less than an hour-and-a-half.
“We have to respond. Let’s say somebody is in real danger and they can’t speak for whatever reason. We’ll go just to make sure,” said Victoria police chief Frank Elsner, noting such calls are frustrating for officers.
“It certainly is problematic for us.”
Elsner noted that several of the calls are pocket dials, along with people calling for inappropriate reasons, such as taxis, pizza, or the weather forecast.
The problem with non-emergency calls and pocket dials from cell phones to 911 became so bad in Alberta that in the spring of 2014 the province brought in legislation that introduced fines for those that abuse system. The fine for the first time offender is $5,000 and $10,000 for repeat offenders.
B.C. E-Comm, the province’s largest call centre, receives pocket dials and nuisance calls on a daily basis. Some of the calls include Wi-Fi not working at a local coffee shop, a number for a travel agency, help finding lost glasses and asking if it’s a stat holiday.
Spokesperson Jody Robertson said such calls take up operators’ valuable time and have become a problem across North America.
“It’s tremendously worrisome when you’re someone who is a 911 call taker and you’re very clear on your purpose that you are there to help people who really need help,” she said, adding police can charge some callers with mischief. “I could walk into our call centre right now and come back with examples (of nuisance calls) just today.”
In Victoria, the emergency services working group is waiting for an expected decision out of the United States later this year to determine if unregistered phones should no longer have the ability to call 911. The decision is expected to substantially decrease the number of unintended 911 calls.