By Kelsey Verboom,
More callers than ever before are dialing 911 for help, and in most cases without knowing it.
A rising trend in incorrectly dialed emergency calls in the local area is leaving an already short-staffed Columbia Valley RCMP stretched thin, forcing police to pick-and-chose which types of calls they are able to attend.
During the past year, local RCMP has been receiving an average of 10-15 incorrectly dialed 911 calls per month. The calls are coming from people who carry their cell phones in their pockets and accidentally press the magic three digits, or from cell phones that have pre-programmed shortcuts to 911, meaning only one button needs to be pushed accidently in order to alert authorities.
Other calls are dialed mistakenly by kids playing with home phones, or even by kids who dial the number on purpose to see what happens, Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sgt. Marko Shehovac said.
RCMP policy dictates that members must try to track down every single 911 caller, preferably in person. Each time a misdialed emergency call comes in, it takes members anywhere from five minutes to one hour to follow procedure.
“It’s important, because it really could be an emergency,” Staff Sgt. Shehovac said. “We don’t know until we get there.”
At the highest estimate, local detachment members are spending up to 15 accumulated hours each month following up on preventable 911 misdials.
The detachment is also short one member due to staffing issues, and summer is an especially busy time for the area, so time is precious, Staff Sgt. Shehovac said.
“Really, it’s just causing a lot of grief. It’s an added burden to the members to follow up on all these calls.”
As a result, the local RCMP has been forced to choose to not attend certain calls, like petty theft. Whereas police previously had the time to attend, those who have small items stolen from their vehicles, a bike plucked off the front lawn, or minor break-and-enters, may now find themselves minus an in-person RCMP follow-up.
“Hopefully in the fall we will have more member time to devote to these things,” Staff Sgt. Shehovac said.
The detachment commander asks that parents educate their children about the use of 911, and that everyone check their cell phones or carry them in a way to ensure the emergency number can’t be dialed accidentally.
“To have one person dial 911 by accident once in their lifetime, it seems like no big deal,” Staff Sgt. Shehovac said. “But nowadays, everyone has a cell phone and when you add all those people up, the problem really compounds.”