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911 Hang Ups Common In The Rivertowns

DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. – We are all taught to call 911 in the event of an emergency – but what if there’s no emergency and the call to 911 is a mistake? All too often people who make accidental 911 calls hang up without explaining their mistake to dispatchers and cost local police departments time and money.

“They happen often,” said Ardsley Police Lt. Anthony Piccolino. “Some type of follow-up is used. It depends on how the call came in.”

It would save police resources if people would just admit it if they've made a call in error, Westchester County Police spokesperson Kieran O’Leary said.

“They just get scared and hang up,” Piccolino said. “They are embarrassed and hang up, but they should stay on the line and tell us it’s a mistake.”

New York State Police Lt. Hector Hernandez said the Hawthorne headquarters receives about 1,200 abandoned calls a month, including misdials, hang-ups and disconnected calls from cellphones. The number is so high because the state police dispatch for all 911 cellphone calls made in Westchester County, and also dispatch for the towns of Somers, Cortlandt, North Salem, Lewisboro, and Pound Ridge.

In 2009, the Westchester 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 of 2012, the department received 105 calls.

Dobbs Ferry Police Sgt. Martin Costers said when dispatch gets a 911 hang-up, they attempt to call back and talk to an adult in the home to determine whether police assistance is needed. If contact cannot be made by phone, then police respond to the caller’s location, Costers said.

Westchester’s area code, 914, is just one digit away from the universal emergency number, but that may not be a factor in the large number of misplaced 911 calls, O'Leary said.

Costers said accidental 911 calls happen for a variety of reasons including children playing with phones, cellphones with speed dial 911 features, area code mistakes and people trying to dial out of a business phone system.

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