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police & fire

911 Hang-Ups Are No Joke To Mamaroneck Police

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Consider this: The Village of Mamaroneck 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. What should the police do?

A 911 hang-up may be an emergency or may be a mistake. Either way, village police Detective Sandra DiRuzza said, the police usually have to respond.

“The desk officer will attempt to make contact with the caller to determine whether or not there is an emergency at the location. In most instances, patrol officers are detailed to the location of the caller,” she said.

It would save police resources 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. In June, seven calls were considered hang-ups in the Village of Mamaroneck.

Westchester’s area code, 914, is just one digit away from the universal emergency number, but that may not be a factor in the large number of misplaced 911 calls, O'Leary said. However, the telephone system in local businesses may play a factor.

“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.”

Most police department policies require a patrol check on any 911 call that is not resolved, in case a caller in trouble cannot speak over the phone. 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.

“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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