- Jim Otte, I-Team Reporter
UPDATE @ 8:20 p.m. (Oct. 30): Operators at Montgomery County's Regional Dispatch Center take in almost 700,000 calls a year and most are for legitimate emergencies, but we have learned that more people -- with cell their phones in hand -- abuse the 9-1-1 system.
"Some of them were off the wall," said Capt. Jay Wheeler, dispatch center director. "Sometimes they get crazy."
Some people don’t seem to care about wasting the operator's time, Wheeler said, and the calls cover a wide variety of topics.
"We've had people request songs like they're calling a radio station. We've had people request wake-up calls. We've had people order pizza. We've had people embellish the facts of what their emergency is in order to get officers' help faster," Wheeler said.
Abusing the system is actually a crime, but not everyone who does it will face charges.
An I-Team investigation found the likelihood of a person being charged with 9-1-1 abuse hinges largely on where that person lives. Most communities do not prosecute people for making crazy calls to 9-1-1.
The city of Dayton, however, does take people to court.
Dayton City Prosecutor Stephanie Cook said repeat offenders are charged with abusing 9-1-1 but other charges can apply depending on the situation. People found guilty of abusing 9-1-1 face a penalty of up to $150 and court costs.
"In some cases where we have misuse of 9-1-1, you also have false alarm charges where people are calling and claiming a crime occurred, when in fact, it is a fabrication," said Cook. "I had one where a woman called 9-1-1 saying that her friend was murdered In that case there was a immediate police response to the call and they found out it was completely false."
Other people have made exaggerated claims of kidnappings or shootings in an effort to get a faster police response to a minor problem. Then, there are the crazy calls.
Cook said one woman called 9-1-1 to complain about the service at a McDonald's restaurant.
"They didn't get the desert that they wanted and so they called 9-1-1 and wanted a police officer to come and yell at the clerk," Cook said.
Accidental calls to 9-1-1 are also a problem. The Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center will attempt to contact the caller if they hang up, just in case it was a true emergency. But, in many cases, the calls come from children playing with phones. DeRae Watson of ClearCiti Technology of Dayton said parents may not realize that an old cell phone can still make emergency calls even if there is no contract for service.
"It will call 9-1-1 as long as it gets a cell phone signal close to any tower to dial 9-1-1," Watson said.
The abuse of 9-1-1 on old phones has created such a problem that the Federal Communication Commission has talked about relaxing its rule that requires old phones to be able to call 9-1-1 without a service contract. Advocates for women's shelters oppose the move, saying it is a link to safety. They collect donated phones and hand them out to victims so they can call for help without the expense of paying the monthly fee for cell service.
"That one time when it's needed, that one time when you have to call, it's there. I think it's important we keep that service available," said Shannon Isom, Dayton YWCA CEO.
City records obtained by the I-Team indicate that the worst abuser of 9-1-1 in 2016 lives on Friden Court in Dayton.
The person answering the door at that location said the owner declined comment. Multiple abuse of 9-1-1 charges have been filed against them. In one incident, the prosecutor said, the man wanted someone to come to his home and change the channel on his television.
Dennis Jones, who lives in the neighborhood, said he has seen police and medics respond to the house multiple times.
"When I see them two and three times in the same neighborhood, it makes me feel they are taking something away from the people who really need it," Jones said.
He encouraged people to think twice before they call 9-1-1 and make sure the situation is not a true emergency.
"They need to stop calling. It's a waste of the city's money and in fact their money," Jones said.
FIRST REPORT (Oct. 27)
The nerve of people using 9-1-1 to order pizza or ask for directions.
The I-Team investigates what’s being done to put a stop to these calls that are getting in the way of real emergencies Monday beginning at 5 p.m. on News Center 7.
We are currently running polls on Facebook and Twitter to find out what you think about the issue.