MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. – Consider this: The Mount Kisco police 911 dispatcher picks up a call and there’s no answer on the other end.
The dispatcher calls the number back to ask if there is an emergency. No one picks up. Whether the hang-up is an emergency or a mistake, Mount Kisco police Sgt. Vito Salvatore said, the police have to respond, in part because the caller in trouble might not be able to speak over the phone.
Salvatore said that when the department gets a call from a landline, the person's name, address and telephone number show up on the dispatcher's computer screen. The dispatcher verifies that information and sends officers to the location, as the dispatcher continues to try to make phone contact with the 911 caller, he said.
Responding to numerous 911 calls from the public is to be expected, Salvatore said. As police officers and public servants, he said, “In essence that's what we do."
It would save police time and money if people would just admit it if they've made a call in error, said Kieran O’Leary, spokesperson for the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.
“We prefer people to stay on the line if they do dial 911 when they don’t mean to,” O’Leary said. “Because if they freak out or get embarrassed and hang up, we will send police to their door.”
New York State Police Lt. Hector Hernandez said the Hawthorne headquarters receives around 1,200 abandoned calls a month, including misdials, hang-ups and disconnected calls from cell phones. The number is so high because the state police receive all 911 cell phone calls made in Westchester County, and also dispatch for the towns of Somers, Cortlandt, North Salem, Lewisboro and Pound Ridge.
In 2009, the county police received 92 calls in error, O'Leary said. In 2010, the number jumped to 107. By 2011, the number spiked to 317 when the county began patrolling Ossining. Through May 2012, the county department received 105 calls.
O’Leary suggests that because Westchester’s area code, 914, is just one digit away from the universal emergency number, that may cause mistakes. It is also possible the telephone system in local businesses plays a factor, he said.
“At some businesses, in order to make an outgoing phone call, you need to dial the number nine first, then the number one, and then the 10-digit number you want to call,” O’Leary said. “So naturally people dial the first two numbers and accidentally hit the one twice.”
More often, it's a young child who dialed the number while playing with the phone. Still, O’Leary said, it is better to be safe than sorry.