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911 Hang-Ups Are No Joke To Bedford Police

BEDFORD, N.Y. – Consider this: The Bedford 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. Whether the call is an emergency or a mistake, the police have to respond, said Bedford police Lt. Jeff Dickan.

Dickan said that in the past six months, the department has sent officers out for 30 hang-ups that ended up being false alarms. But he estimates that the department receives 20 to 25 "abandoned calls" per week in which the dispatcher is able to make phone contact with the caller before sending officers to the location.

It would save police time and money 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.

O’Leary suggests that because Westchester’s area code, 914, is just one digit away from the universal emergency number, that may cause mistakes. It is also possible the telephone system in local businesses plays a factor, he said.

“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.

“When emergencies do happen the system can be overwhelmed, so we don’t want it to be used for nonemergencies," Dickan said. But, he said, anyone who calls should know they can be confident that officers will be there when they need them.

At the Bedford department, "If there's no contact, we send an officer, and that's the bottom line," Dickan said.

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