(WXYZ) — When seconds count, the highly-trained experts taking calls into a 911 Dispatch Center in Oakland County play an important role.
The first responders we all rely on are used to answering emergencies, but what happens when lines are tied up with lower priority calls that don't represent an immediate danger? It's a growing problem and police are working to raise awareness on it.
It's a troubling trend, 911 dispatchers say. Calls are being made for emergency responses that aren't life-threatening or a crime in progress.
Day in and day out, dispatchers take calls ranging from fast food beefs to inconsiderate pet owners who are dropping the ball on cleanup. In some cases, there's no feud at all.
"I have a new cell phone number and I just wanted to make sure your office had it," one caller said.
Bloomfield Township Dispatcher Kristy Paquin has been on the job for nearly 20 years. She said some people call 911 because it's the easiest number to remember, but it can tie up valuable resources for someone who is actually in trouble.
“We have seen an increase in people just being lonely," she said.
At the Bloomfield Township dispatch center, dispatchers field about 200 total calls a day, and around 75,000 calls per year. The issue continues to alarm first responders with police and fire.
Within minutes of visiting the dispatch center, someone called in reporting a vehicle left in a parking lot for several days.
But seconds later, a real emergency call from a victim of a hit-and-run, stopped on the shoulder of a busy Telegraph Rd. Police quickly responded to investigate.
The most appropriate use of 911? "Crime in progress or life emergencies," Bloomfield Township Police Chief Phil Langmeyer said. “A lot of resources are invested into a 911 call, right from the beginning.”
Langmeyer said in a community of 44,000 people, it's critical to maintain the fastest possible response time, and citizens should use a non-emergency line for other needs.
Across Southeast Michigan, an agency studying police data points out the problem is not limited to one community. In the past couple of years, many have forgotten the true purpose of 911.
“There’s a whole range of things that ties up resources," Retired State Police Inspector Ellis Stafford said.
He's with the non-profit Detroit Crime Commission and said educating the public is more important than ever.
“Some departments have implemented their own 411, 211 or non-emergency lines, but I think it should be done at the national level," he said.
The dispatch team in Bloomfield Twp. also handles emergency calls for the village of Franklin & Bingham farms. That makes them among the busiest in Oakland County.