On February 12th, 2013

CHP Dispatchers: Precious Seconds Spent On Pranks

Seconds counts.   We all know lives are saved and lives are lost in a very few precious seconds.  So why do some pranksters take pride and pleasure in detracting emergency dispatchers from what could be the next dire emergency by phoning in bogus crimes in-progress and fictitious freeway crash sites?

"When someone calls in a fake emergency, it's called swatting, particularly if a SWAT team is called out. The culprits often put their pranks on video-sharing sites and get a real kick out of it.  But they are putting lives in danger," said Alan Barcelona.  Barcelona is president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association which represents dispatchers with the California Highway Patrol (CHP).  "When our dispatchers devote time to a hoax, that's time they are not devoting to real emergencies and real life-threatening events."

Recently emergency dispatchers have answered 911 calls and dispatched emergency response crews to scenes of reported plane crashes that turned out to be hoaxes.  "Swatting" has  gained worldwide attention after pranksters have reported crimes-in-progress at the homes of Hollywood celebrities.   Law enforcement officers respond with guns drawn and the homeowners are baffled by the unexpected intrusion.

"Unfortunately it is a growing trend and it ties up dispatchers who are our first point of contact when we call for help," said Barcelona.  "Delaying a dispatcher for the pure thrill of it is quite possibly delaying a dispatcher from  a situation where seconds really do count.  This is not only breaking the law, it's breaking the chain of emergency response."

There are ways for authorities to track down these pranksters and charges can be filed against the suspect.  If the suspect is a child, in some cases, the parents can be charged.

"On a daily basis, CHP dispatchers receive prank calls," said Tina Brazil, president of the California Highway Patrol Public Safety Dispatchers Association (CHP-PSDA).  "Sometimes parents give their kids an old cell phone to play with, thinking that service has been cancelled so the child can do no harm,  but that phone, with a working battery in it, is still capable of being used for 911."

Whether it is an innocent mistake by a child playing with a phone or a malicious "swatting" incident, bogus calls to 911 are a continuous and growing problem. 

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