9-1-1 centers across the region are being overloaded by accidental calls, and the dispatch abuse is costly.
"Mathematically you could say it’s a drain on resources, and that certainly is true," says Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson. "Because it takes people and time away from doing other duties."
Chief Wilkinson broke it down to a per-call price; He says his officers are paid an average of $30/hour, and that each accidental call requires 2 officers and a minimum of 15 minutes. That adds up to a $15 price tag for every call an officer responds to.
“600 calls a year? That's a pretty big problem," he says.
Those calls will cost Neenah taxpayers just under $11,000 this year, and in larger counties, the price tag is even higher.
Brown County residents are on pace to pay for over 14,000 accidental calls this year. Using a similar breakdown produces a price tag of over $200,000 dollars ($210,135) in police wages alone. In Outagamie County, residents will pay just over $100,000 ($103,845) in police response to accidental calls.
"Sometimes it's frustrating," says Brown County Sergeant Karl Lau. "It takes up a lot of our time because there are so many of them."
Brown County will handle roughly 71,000 9-1-1 calls this year. That means nearly 20% of the calls, are bogus.
"I don't want to say it wastes time because we want to call back and make sure everybody is fine," says Dispatcher Heather Gall. "But when we're more busy in the communication center it does take away from the amount of attention we're able to give to not only the officers but other people calling in.
Officers say when they arrive on the scene, callers are often completely unaware that they’ve dialed 9-1-1…
"When we are find it, most of the time it's merely an accident, what might be called a pocket dial," says Chief Wilkinson.
"A lot of times they don't even think that they dialed. Because if you dial 9-1-1, and you look in your call log, it's not going to show that you called because it logs it as emergency mode. So a lot of times when we call people back they're really flabbergasted like 'I didn't call 9-1-1 it's not in my call history', so people just get a little upset," says Gall.
Even if dispatchers can call back and reach someone, it’s protocol to send an officer to the scene.
They say they use to calls as a chance to educate the public.
“It is frustrating, but we use it as a teaching lesson," says Lau. "When we go to someone's house and the kids are playing with the phone we explain what 9-1-1 is for, how it's there to help them, it's usually a good teaching lesson.”
Officials say they do have the authority to bring judicial punishment against people caught abusing the system, but that’s simply used for people prank calling 9-1-1.
They say there are no plans to implement punishments or fines for these accidental calls, because they don’t want people to be afraid to call 9-1-1 if they really need it.
Part one of this Special Report - Detailing the problem and how it can be fixed, can be found here: