Central Maine law enforcement agencies are urging people to stay on the line if they misdial 911, a circumstance the agencies say is becoming increasingly common in 2020 and could be diverting time from other potential emergencies.

Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Read said since the beginning of 2020, the sheriff’s office has received 160 emergency 911 hangups or misdials. Read said that number is “unusually high”; during the same period in 2019, his agency received only 19 hang-ups.

Read issued a news release Thursday reminding citizens to stay on the line and communicate with the dispatch after accidentally dialing 911.

“When a person hangs up on a 911 call, the call-taker takes the time to call the person back to ensure that police, fire or EMS response is not needed,” the release said. “While the dispatcher is trying to make contact with a hang-up caller, another person with a true emergency could be calling in.”

Read said he believes the increase is likely due to “a combination of several factors,” including features on smartphones that make it easier to make emergency calls.

The Hallowell Police Department has seen a decrease in 911 hang-ups from 73 in 2018 to 58 in 2019, but shown a slight jump to 18 so far in 2020. Police Chief Eric Nason said an increasing number of senior citizens’ alert pendants may also contribute to the number of misdials.

Winthrop Police Department issued a similar release on its Facebook page Feb. 16, detailing the process that dispatchers follow after receiving a hung-up 911 call.

“If you dial 911 by mistake, or you hit the wrong button on your phone, don’t just hang up,” the post reads. “If we just get the disconnect, the dispatched will start searching and calling back, in some cases the call doesn’t get picked up. Now we get worried for your safety and the police are set out to find you.”

Winthrop police Chief Ryan Frost said his department sends an officer to each hang-up to confirm if the call was accidental. Frost said the department has had a total of 33 so far this year, compared to 17 during the same time period last year. He said he was unsure as to what was causing the increase, but some of the callers stated “they have a new phone that caused them to call 911. ”

While both departments issued releases at the same time, Read said there is no combined effort to make the public more aware of the effect of the increase in misdials. Read said a deputy mentioned that he had been dealing with more hang-ups than usual, causing him to look at the numbers and send out Thursday’s release.

Augusta police Staff Sgt. Christian Behr said the department has seen a rise in hang-ups so far this year compared to the same period last year, from 137 to 184.

He didn’t see the increase as a big jump, because the department sees a relatively steady amount year to year, with some months being high and some being low. Behr said he did not believe it was an increasing problem for his department.

“I don’t think this is any big thing,” he said. “I think people call or misdial all the time.”


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