Local News


911 abusers steal time from those who truly need help

Posted at 10:45 PM, Aug 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-06 11:23:09-04

911 is the number to call when someone's life is on the line.

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears exposed how people were put on hold when calling for help.

Now she's discovered that some can't get through because others are stealing time.

Operator: 911 emergency. Do you need police, fire or medical?
Caller: I am calling because I was just, like, got 
jipped out of gas from a gas station.

It's something you have to see--or in this case, hear--to believe.

Caller: My vitamins and stuff don't even work right now because my body's shut down!

Those are actual 911 calls from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department over the past few months.

Operator: 911 emergency.
Caller: Yes, hello, I am trying to call Switzerland, and it just doesn't work. I have the number. Can't you dial it for me?
Operator: No. I can't dial an international number for you because this is 911. This is not the phone company.

Darcy Spears had the opportunity to sit in as a 911 call-taker for the day at Metro Comm listening in on how many calls come in, how long it takes to deal with them and how many are frivolous.  

It's something that happens, "Every day. Every day. I couldn't tell you the number of times a day," said 911 Operator Lisa McCarthy.

So the person having a heart attack or the family hiding in fear during a home invasion will likely be put on hold due to the frivolous calls.

911 Operator Lisa McCarthy lives for the moments when she can help someone who's truly in need.

We listened in as she handled a call about a guy passed out in his vehicle at the South Point, slumped over the wheel with empty bottles of alcohol observed in the car.

But instead of dispatching emergency service, McCarthy spends more than half her time on frivolous calls--the single biggest disruption in fast 911 service.

Caller: Ma'am. Good morning, so sorry to disturb you. I'm visiting from out of town. I just wanted to know what time it was in Las Vegas?

Lisa said she sometimes gets calls from people unhappy with their food order.

While someone's going off about a not-so-perfect pizza, Lisa can see new calls backing up on big, wall-mounted screens.

"You know that one of those calls, I mean, it could be life or death within 3 seconds."

Dispatcher Tina Sobosle has seen it for years.

"Most of the 911 calls I deal with are not 911 calls."

"Which means that we can't get cops to that location fast enough, or we can't do a transfer to the Fire Department to get medical to that location," says Captain Matt McCarthy, who oversees Metro's 911 call center. 

Capt. McCarthy says eliminating abuse would wipe out hold times. 

And though many frivolous callers are clearly mentally ill, Metro is doing its best to crack down on those who misuse the system.

"We have three live cases right now of three different persons who have abused 911."

Remember the lady who called about her vitamins? She called Metro 739 times between January and May.

Dispatchers know her by name.

Operator: Is there anything you need from the police today, Patricia?
Patricia: I want them to stop messing with me wrong! That's what I want!

Patricia is facing charges of "Unlawful use of emergency phone number."

Police records also show a man is charged with "Aggressive stalking" for  making 30 calls using profane language. 

Another woman who made seven "Unfounded" calls is also charged with "Unlawful use of emergency phone number."

"They don't need police, and they know they don't need police," said Lisa McCarthy. "I think it's entertainment for them." 

Caller: I've called about a garbage bag full of air.
Operator: And what can the police do for you, sir?
Caller: I was like wondering what I should do with it.

To help ensure someone can answer your call to 911, Metro is hiring more staff.

Ten new dispatchers are expected to be answering phones this month. 

Thirty more should be online in January.