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911 Hang-Ups Are No Joke For Scarsdale Police

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – The Scarsdale Police Department 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.

What should the police do?

A 911 hang-up may be an emergency or may be a mistake. Either way, Scarsdale Police Lt. Thomas Altizio said, police have to respond. If there is no response to a call back, officers are sent to the location to ensure everyone’s safety.

In 2011, officers were dispatched to 231 911 hang-up calls in Scarsdale. This year to date, there have been 90 such incidents. Hang-ups happen frequently – Scarsdale police personnel answer more than 1,000 such calls each year.

“Most are dialed in error, dialed by a speed dialer, when children are playing with the phone or are the results of telephone line problems,” he said. “Verifying every call and responding to those we cannot wastes valuable police resources.”

It would save police resources if people would just admit it if they've made a call in error, Westchester County Police spokesperson Kieran O’Leary said.

“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 dispatch for all 911 cell phone calls made in Westchester County, and also dispatches for Somers, Cortlandt, North Salem, Lewisboro and Pound Ridge.

In 2009, the Westchester County Police received 92 calls in error, O'Leary said. In 2010, the numbered jumped to 107. By 2011, the number spiked to 317 when the county began patroling Ossining. Through May of 2012, the department had received 105 calls.

Altizio said that it is important to use a land line whenever possible if calling 911 for an emergency. When a cell phone is used, the call goes to either a regional answering service or is forwarded to the police based upon the location of the cell tower that connected the call.

“This doesn’t always get you connected to the correct police department,” he said. “If you are home and need to report an emergency, you should use your land line-based phone if possible, so the call will be routed directly to local police.”

While most 911 hang-ups turn out to be benign, O’Leary said it is better to be safe than sorry.

“It comes with the territory; we don’t view it as an inconvenience,” O’Leary said. “It’s our duty to make absolutely sure that the public is safe, so it’s not any sort of burden to us.”

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