Bryan-College Station, we have a problem.
Our 911 dispatchers received 68,254 calls in 2009 and estimate that thousands of those calls were not real emergencies.
While a person whose house is on fire waits for a dispatcher to answer the phone, the lines are tied up by a caller with a lost pet or a citizen who needs assistance changing a tire. The non-emergency calls are blocking the lines for those who truly have an emergency and need help immediately.
Actual calls have been made to our local 911 dispatch center from someone who wanted to order a cheeseburger and another person who needed help spelling a word. Plenty of prank calls also are dialed in to 911 on a regular basis. This wastes dispatchers' time – while people experiencing real emergencies could be waiting for someone to pick up the phone.
We've created a public education campaign featuring several commercials that can be watched at our City of Bryan YouTube page, www.youtube.com/cityofbryan. Some of the commercials are humorous … But that's only to get your attention. This really isn't a laughing matter. It is dangerous to tie up 911 lines for a non-emergency. We hope you will take the message to heart.
It appears to be a problem even beyond our local community. A quick Google search for "911 non-emergency calls" pulls up 9 million results. ABC News reported a 911 call from someone wanting to know "if it is Tuesday or Wednesday." A caller in Maryland wanted an officer to come to her house and look in her Dumpster for missing keys, according to the same ABC News report.
Certainly there are instances where the police department needs to be notified – but not necessarily via 911. Our non-emergency line, (979) 209-5300, accepts calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Examples of things that might be reported as non-emergencies include a juvenile curfew violation, stolen checks or credit cards and vandalism.
Just because a crime has been committed, it doesn't mean a call should be placed to 911.
Furthermore, sometimes people dial 911 to report things like code violations, maintenance requests, debris or graffiti. Those calls can be directed to our "Help Bryan" hotline, (979) 209-5900, or reported online at www.helpbryan.com.
If you discover a crime has been committed, stop and think about whether it warrants an urgent call to 911. Certainly there are legitimate crimes that warrant a call to 911. But service can be streamlined if non-emergency calls are directed to the non-emergency number.
Or think of it this way: If one of your loved ones was experiencing a life-or-death emergency, would you want to wait for a dispatcher to pick up because they're on the phone with someone wanting the number to a pizza restaurant?
Please take a moment today to plug the number (979) 209-5300 into your cell phone. Encourage your kids, parents, roommates and friends to do the same. This is a community problem, and we can't resolve it without your help.