By Billy Stitz
An increased amount of false or accidental 911 calls have been flowing into the Moody County emergency service of late. The main cause of this problem, deactivated cell phones.
It has been a growing trend for parents to give their child a deactivated cell phone to play with as toy. There are a lot of good things that come from the inexpensive gift. Aside from keeping the phone from laying in a landfill, it helps kids learn the basics of technology.
Take an iPhone for instance. Once you have upgraded your phone, your old iPhone can still be used as an iPod, play games, and use apps. The bad part is, it can also be used to dial 911.
Each cellular provider is required to allow 911 calls from all phones, even if they are deactivated. That is why you pay a surcharge on your phone bill each month. In most instances, it is an extremely useful tool, but the growing trend of gifting these phones has turned it into a nuisance.
Moody County Sheriff, Troy Wellman, has seen calls coming into their 911 service from deactivated cell phones at a much higher frequency of late. The biggest issue for the Sheriff’s office has come from the dispatcher’s inability to distinguish whether or not the call needs emergency service or not - wasting valuable time and resources in order to resolve the issue.
Some are clearly accidents and the caller hangs up right away when they realize their mistake but in a few instances, the caller seems to find it entertaining that they can call somebody from their new toy, congesting the 911 phone lines.
There was also one instance where the caller made up a false emergency – or at least they hoped it was false according to Sheriff Wellman.
“About two weeks ago somebody called in, we could tell it was a child but we heard them say, ‘Help! I have been stabbed’.” Wellman went on to say, “We spent several hours working with the cell phone provider to try and find the origin of the phone call but we could not pin point an exact location because the phone was deactivated.”
Luckily, the Sheriff’s office hasn’t heard about a stabbing in the county and remains hopeful that it was a prank call.
There are a few solutions according to the Sheriff. If the child is an infant and only uses the phone to push buttons, then remove the battery. In the case of an iPhone, where you cannot remove the battery, lock the phone app. If your child is old enough, you should sit them down and explain to them the importance of the service and that it is illegal to make phony calls to 911. Explain to them that it holds up the phone lines, which could cause a problem if someone is trying to call in an actual emergency.
In most cases, if you accidentally call the service and explain it was a mistake to the dispatcher, no harm is done. If they can prove that you are purposely making prank phone calls into 911, it is considered a Class one Misdemeanor.