People who abuse 911 service could face legal action

By Kelly Bauer

“I would like to report a terrorist activity: My neighbor threatened to kill my cat.”

This is just one of the non-emergency 911 calls that the DeKalb Police Department has received, DeKalb Police Sgt. Lisa Miller said. The calls aren’t uncommon for the department, Miller said; just Wednesday, a woman called 911 asking for help unlocking her phone. Callers can get in trouble for using 911 when they don’t have an emergency, but that doesn’t always stop the non-emergency reports from coming in.

“If [callers] make a false report, if they say there’s a big fight when there isn’t, then they can get arrested for that,” Miller said. “Otherwise, we would have to see if we could get the state’s attorney to go with a disorderly conduct for abusing the phone. If someone were to call repeatedly with a non-emergency and they’ve been told to stop and only call in case of an emergency, we can get them for phone harassment.”

Miller said that once, after a man was arrested for soliciting a prostitute and was released, he called the department’s 911 line several times, asking for his money back. She was unsure if the man was arrested for the abuse, but said an officer had followed up with him. Miller said the abuse of the dispatch system is an “everyday thing” in her department. NIU Police Sgt. Alan Smith said the calls aren’t as common for the university’s police department, but there have been some.

“We get calls from people who want us to pick them up and take them to the grocery store,” Smith said. “We get some calls from time to time that are not emergency-related.”

Similar abuse of the system has happened in Kendall County, where a man was arrested Nov. 11 for obstructing/resisting a peace officer after calling 911 five times to report his iPhone was not working, according to a Kendall County Sheriff’s Office report. The incident was reported on various comedy news websites, like as well as news organizations like CNN.

Smith and Miller said such calls are dangerous because they can prevent emergency calls from reaching dispatchers.

“If a guy is calling for a non-emergency, especially if it’s someone like a non-English speaking man, we would have to get a language line involved, which takes a considerable amount of time,” Miller said. “If you’re trying to call in on 911 because you’re having a heart attack, well all of our 911s are full, so you’re going to get transferred to the sheriff’s office. That’s going to put a delay in you getting the help you need.”