- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SEYMOUR, Ind. (AP) - People made three times as many calls to 911 dispatchers at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department last year than they did 10 years ago.

Many of the 16,705 callers in 2013 didn’t have what police call a true emergency - a matter of life and death - but an officer responded to nearly every call, putting a sometimes unnecessary strain on resources, Sheriff Michael Carothers said.

Ten years ago, the department recorded 5,896 calls to 911.

“They’re legitimate in the eye of the person calling,” he told The Tribune (https://bit.ly/1e0v4CQ ). “If someone calls in, their problem needs to become our most important problem. They need help because they have an issue they don’t know how to handle.”

Responses also are needed to ensure that someone isn’t being stopped from reporting an emergency, Carothers added.

On average, the sheriff’s department receives 40 to 45 calls to 911 daily, and about 60 to 65 percent are for legitimate emergencies. The rest are from people who have the wrong idea about the purpose of 911 or who dialed 911 by mistake, Carothers said.

Some larger cities such as Cincinnati and Baltimore have begun implementing programs to send counselors to talk with people who frequently call 911 for non-emergencies because those calls stretch emergency services.

Carothers said the problem continues to grow here but has not reached that level.

Tom Robbins, a dispatcher with the sheriff’s department since 2002, said the non-emergency calls come from people who fit into one of several categories.

“One of our biggest problems is parents letting young children play with a cellphone,” Robbins said.

In each of those cases, an officer tries to visit the home to educate both the child and the parent about the right reasons for calling 911, Carothers said.

“We tell (the children) that we’re glad they know how to dial 911, but they don’t need to call that number unless they are hurt or need help,” Carothers said.

Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said there’s a simple solution to that problem if a parent or someone else gives a child a cellphone that’s no longer being used.

“Take the battery out,” he said.

In other cases, dispatchers will receive a 911 call from a landline cordless phone because its battery has gone dead.

Those calls along with accidental calls from youngsters playing with telephones count toward the year-end total because an officer generally is sent to the home to ensure it isn’t a legitimate problem, Carothers said.

Robbins said dispatchers also tend to receive 911 calls from people who have placed their cellphone in their pocket or purse without locking the keyboard.

“Sometimes they accidentally dial 911,” he said.

But there’s also a group of people who think 911 can be used to solve a non-emergency problem.

“I’ve received calls from youth wanting us to help reset their iPhones,” Robbins said.

He said he also received several calls from people asking what the SOS button on their cellphones is for, Robbins said.

“And I tell them it’s so they can call 911,” he said.

The only calls that don’t count toward the end-year total are those in which dispatchers receive multiple calls about a single emergency, such as an accident or fire.

“We usually only count one of those calls,” Carothers said.

Some people, especially the elderly, call repeatedly with what they consider emergencies, Carothers said.

“People getting up in years start seeing and hearing things,” he said.

“We go out there and can’t find anything.”

Police watch those callers, however, to see if they might be having some medical or mental issues that might need attention, Carothers said.

“A lot of times we’re that first step in getting them help,” he said. “We try to talk to their family and see if we can get them in contact with a program that can help them out.”

Some of the older callers also might just be lonely and wanting to talk to someone, Carothers said.

But some of the 911 callers just have simple questions, Abbott said.

“We get calls on 911 from people wanting to know if school is closed or when the Oktoberfest and Halloween parades are,” he said.

Those calls, however, have not been a real hindrance, Abbott said.

“We usually have two or three dispatchers,” he said.

And like the county, Seymour will send an officer out to check on a child or elderly person who might have dialed 911 accidentally.

Abbott said the problem is being addressed by the officers on the street, and it’s not taking away from their other duties.

“We have enough people that we still have some flexibility,” Carothers said. “If we have a bad wreck, everyone is going to be going there anyway. We usually send one officer to a call, and that leaves the others free for anything else.”

Carothers said calls to 911, however, should be limited to true emergencies such as a life-threatening situation.

If someone calls and it’s not a true emergency, dispatchers will tell the caller to hang up and call the department’s non-emergency line at 812-358-2141, Carothers said.

A large portion of the sheriff’s department’s increase occurred between 2008 when it received 6,700 calls and 2009 when it received 12,191 calls.

The explanation for 911 calls doubling during that period is pretty simple, Carothers said.

“The state police quit taking 911 calls, and they were transferred to the sheriff’s department,” he said.

That change occurred months before the Seymour post was consolidated with the post at Versailles in 2010, he said.

The number of 911 calls Seymour received that year jumped from 3,777 in 2009 to 4,206 in 2010, Abbott said.

But other than that one-year spike, the number of 911 calls Seymour dispatchers received since 2005 have been relatively stable at around 4,000, Abbott said.

“We’ve had some fluctuations up and down, and I’m not really sure why,” he said.

The county always has had a much higher number of calls, Abbott said.

That’s because besides dispatching for the sheriff’s department, county dispatchers also handle calls for Brownstown, Medora and Crothersville police departments, local conservation officers, 10 fire departments and six ambulances.

Abbott said the county also receives any 911 call generated in the county including those generated from inside the city.

“The county receives the 911 call if it’s from inside the city but sends it back to us,” he said.

Both departments are in the process of upgrading their dispatching equipment.

“Our equipment was installed when it was built in 2000,” Carothers said. “So it’s 14 years old.”

Once the new equipment and furniture are installed, the county will have three dispatching stations with furniture and space for additional station in the future, Carothers said.

County dispatchers are spending this week working out of Seymour’s dispatch center, which has three stations.

“Since we needed two, we have to put together another makeshift station,” Carothers said.

Once the upgrade is completed, new equipment will be installed at Seymour. The work won’t cost quite as much because Seymour’s system dates to 2007.

“It’s getting harder to find equipment for this system,” Carothers said.

The equipment will cost $536,327 for both centers and will be paid for with 911 funds generated by monthly fees paid by consumers.


Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, https://www.tribtown.com



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