GASTON COUNTY, N.C. -- A new bill in the General Assembly is in the works, designed to crack down on bogus calls and keep the lines open for real emergencies.
House Bill 345 passed its first reading this week.
The bill would require stiffer penalties for misusing 911. The punishment would be bumped up from a class three to a class one misdemeanor.
"We get calls from people upset if they get their food order wrong," says Lloyd Moskowitz.
Moskowitz is the Director of the Gaston County Police Telecommunications Division. His dispatchers handle more than 140,000 calls every year.
This week, the department filed a police report against a Gastonia woman who called 911 more than 360 times since January.
Police eventually tracked her cell phone and identified the woman. Her excuse: "She said that it was a misdial, dropped call or her cat walked across the phone.”
He says those would be plausible excuses, one of two times, but not the hundreds of times they were getting her calls. Sometimes they would get 10-12 calls at all hours of the day. Most of the time, he says she hung up of the phone just as dispatchers answered.
Hang ups, however, are considered “abandoned calls,” and still must be investigated, with a call-back or a visit.
Police went to her house on two occasions to ask she stop using the line for non-emergencies. He says the calls continued.
Shortly after this story aired Thursday evening, NBC Charlotte learned the woman was arrested earlier in the day because she continued to misuse the 911 system.
This week, officers paid her another visit, taking her to the hospital for a mental evaluation. There may not have been any criminal intent, but Moskowitz says such calls tie up valuable resources.
"We get [a] significant number of prank calls, not only because people have dispute with a neighbor, some people enjoy making police and fire engines run back and forth for no reason. The important thing is that we have to make the calls stop," Moskowitz expressed.
He supports the bill and hopes the public understands making these false or exaggerated calls, or ones that can be made to a non-emergency line, all have consequences.
"I think we need the option of prosecuting to a higher level to act as a deterrent to somebody's conduct."