Yes, 911 misusers should be fined!

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Sabrina Almeida

From complaints about an ice cream truck in front of the home to a leaking refrigerator and being woken up by amber alerts on cellphones—misuse of the emergency call system has become rampant. In 2018 Peel Region recorded a whopping 36% of misuse calls including hang ups and test calls. New numbers released by Peel police this week show that 23% of the 911 calls in June and 21% in July weren’t emergencies. This might not seem critical until you realize that around 1 out of every 4 calls is a complete waste of valuable resources.

Two friends who have suffered heart attacks at home are very thankful to the timely attention from 911 services. They know first-hand that every minute counts in these medical emergencies. One man’s wife who says the paramedics arrived in 1 minute and 30 seconds, credits their swiftness with saving his life. Fast forward to today, when you could be forced to wait in queue for that amount of time because of one such ignorant or uncaring caller. The result –unnecessary medical complications or loss of life on account of someone else’s foolishness.

It’s disturbing that this misuse continues despite continued police efforts to educate the public about when to call 911. Lost wallets or cars, parking violations, loud noise and wanting to know how to start your oven do not constitute emergencies. Only a life-and-death situation does. This includes a fire, crime in progress or medical emergency. The trained emergency communicator will then direct your call to ambulance, police or fire services as needed.

Police also ask that we educate our children about 911 usage. It may surprise you to learn that some of the misuse calls are pranks or dares involving children. A friend’s son was bullied into making that call by older kids who wanted to test what would happen. In another instance, a group of curious children called the number and then hung up. Their families had gathered for a party at a friend’s house in Brampton one evening. Police came to the home to investigate as they heard children’s voices in the background. (Calls involving children are regarded as serious.) It was quite a shock for the host and his guests when the cops arrived. Suffice to say their presence also scared the daylights out of the children.

So, what’s the solution to the malaise? Hefty penalties might be an instant cure!!! It’s amazing how having to pay for a service will automatically make individuals think twice about whether they really need it. Did you know that you will have to pay for emergency ambulance services if your physician determines that the call was unnecessary? And even if it were there might be a co-payment involved. So, it’s not free!!!

The troubling numbers coming out of Peel often lead to the assumption it’s the uninitiated (or non-English-speaking) newcomers into the country that are responsible for the misuse. That’s not necessarily true. Complaints about an amber alert interrupting a Leafs game tell a different story. I can almost guarantee that few, if any new residents, would be watching an ice hockey game.

In its list of ‘outrageously funny’ 911 calls (I wouldn’t use any of these words to describe them), the Readers Digest chronicles a repeat offender (from Lundar, Manitoba) who when threatened with jail time asked that the authorities bring him smokes when they come to get him. A classic example of callous callers. Just like the selfish ones objecting to the Amber Alerts on their phones. I’m all for fining them.

I propose a first time forgiveness (with a warning) with increasing penalties for repeat offenders.

And if you or your children accidentally dial 911, don’t just hang up. The police would be forced to follow up which is again a waste of resources. Just stay on the line and let the dispatcher know it was a mistake.

In addition to education campaigns about when to use 911, awareness about non-emergency services also needs to increase. Like where to call for general inquiries about police and city services. Many residents of Peel may not be aware that they can call 311 for non-emergency municipal services and 211 for community and social services within Ontario. Hopefully this will help reduce or even eliminate the misuse. -CINEWS

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