An extreme case of 911 abuse has landed a 14-year-old girl in big trouble with Salt Lake City police.
For the past four months, someone has been using two inactive cell phone accounts to flood emergency dispatchers for Salt Lake police with calls. Approximately 1,650 calls to 911 were made, said Salt Lake police detective Michael Burbank. On some nights, emergency dispatchers received more than 100 calls from the individual, he said. The majority of calls were made between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The caller, who police concluded by her voice was a juvenile, would either hang up immediately or engage in long conversations, Burbank said.
Dispatch supervisor Elaine Mortensen said that emergency operators told her the content of those calls was very juvenile in nature and that she never attempted to report a crime or emergency situation.
"Most of what she had to say on the phone was taunting," Mortensen said. "She would talk for awhile, tell operators that they would never find her, then get tired and hang up. Then call back and do it again."
Mortensen said bogus calls to the dispatch center are not unusual, but the number of calls this person made was beyond anything she's experienced there. She also said that they were under the impression, until the arrest, that a young boy was making the calls.
During those extended talks with dispatchers, officers would trace the call to its general place of origin.
"Officers drove around looking for houses with lights on, looking for audio clues such as a dog barking that dispatchers could hear on the phone," Burbank said. "We'd get a general vicinity but not an an exact address. Kind of a needle in a haystack."
Police knew they were close at times to finding the girl, because while on the phone with dispatchers she would tell them that she could see the officers looking for her, he said.
About 1:50 a.m. Friday, the efforts of officers paid off when officers knocked on a door near 1200 West Pacific Ave. (440 South). After talking to a female juvenile inside, the officers were able to determine that she was the one who had been making all of the calls, Burbank said. Police seized two cell phones from the girl, who was cited and released to the custody of her mother, who also lived at the house.
It was unclear Friday if the girl thought what she was doing was a joke or if she had malicious intent.
But both police and dispatchers noted that any 911 call, whether it's for a minute or an hour, requires a certain amount of attention. Because the girl was making 100 false calls a night, it became an enormous drain on resources, Burbank said.
Officers who could have been doing pro-active police work or responding to other calls had time taken away from them. Dispatchers who could have been answering other calls were distracted from their duties.
Furthermore, a case log has to be made for every 911 call, no matter how long or short. The effort to fill out reports for 1,650 calls was a huge strain on resources, according to dispatchers.
Abusing 911 is a class B misdemeanor. The juvenile could potentially face one charge for every 911 call.When a cell phone account is inactive or "dead," Burbank said, a person cannot make or receive any calls except for 911.
Contributing: Arthur Raymond E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]