Police, emergency services continue to report misuse of the 9-1-1 system

Police, emergency services continue to report misuse of the 9-1-1 system
Most people realize that 911 service is for emergency calls only, but increasingly callers are asking dispatchers for other kinds of help. Sean O Shea reports.


A Burlington man was arrested Tuesday after Halton Regional Police responded to a 9-1-1 call claiming a woman had been shot.

But when police arrived, they found no one was hurt and say the call was a hoax intended to draw attention to a far less serious complaint made earlier.

“It is alleged that the 911 call was made…to expedite police response to a separate report in regards to missing property,” said Halton Regional Police in a statement.

As a result, they charged 27-year-old Zach Gerdes with two counts under the criminal code: Convey False Message and Public Mischief. The latter carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison upon conviction.

Gerdes was released on a promise to appear in court.

Police allege a call was placed to 9-1-1 about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday evening, stating that a female had been shot at a Burlington residence on Walkers Line.

Heavily-armed police tactical officers responded to the home along with Halton EMS, but found no victim or confrontation.

The case is the most serious among a growing number of inappropriate calls to 9-1-1 reported by police departments.

“When you call on 9-1-1 for something that is not an emergency, it ties up that dispatcher so that they are not answering another 9-1-1 that can come in,” said Christina Votipka, a Las Vegas based 9-1-1 dispatcher and trainer.

Votipka say she’s been repeatedly called asking for the current time, having been told by one person: “I know you’ve got a clock in there.”

In Simcoe, Ont., provincial police said a 9-1-1 call was placed in March by someone complaining about bedbugs.

Police say the man told the dispatcher he wanted police assistance.

Disgusting, yes — but bedbugs aren’t considered a valid reason to call 9-1-1, police warn.

Neither are calls for help with homework, which dispatchers say they occasionally receive from children.

Following two Amber Alerts in Ontario in February and March, police were besieged by 9-1-1 queries from angry callers, complaining about being disturbed after receiving alerts on their mobile phones.

Police at the time appealed to people not to tie up resources intended for urgent calls.

“9-1-1 is only to be used for actual emergencies,” said Halton police in a tweet after the incident in Burlington.
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