When it's life and death, we're taught from an early age to dial 911. But what if that line was tied up with no real emergency, because 911 operators are dealing with a nuisance call?
These wasted non-emergency calls could put you in danger, and it could cost the prankster thousands.
Albany 911 gets calls like: "Somebody stole a candy bar from me."
And... "Yes, can you tell me how would I track a restricted call?"
"When we answer the phone we do not know what is about to happen on the other end of that line," said Albany 911 Communications Manager Charlotte Downing Floyd.
That's why every 911 call, is treated as a true emergency. As dispatchers are gathering information, they're dispatching police or EMT's.
"We take it very seriously, we listen to what the people have to say."
So when calls like this comes in- "I just want to know if the roads are clear to go to church this morning?"
It takes ties up resources, taking away from gunfire in east Albany or someone trapped in a crash on the bypass, or the true emergency at the Piggly Wiggly.
"You've got two people shot in the store. On Merydith Drive. I've got two that's down, two that's down. You've got to get someone here."
"A wreck would certainly take priority over someone stole my candy bar," said Floyd.
911 prioritizes every call, a death or shots fired, are Priority 1, the highest priority, the missing candy bar is at the bottom of the list, a priority 3, helping dispatchers get assistance to those who need.
"A wreck with injuries, if someone is breaking into your house and it's an in progress call, and those are the things we listen for," said Floyd.
Monday, Albany Police had 20 officers on day shift, that's covering the city's 15 beats from the west, to central Albany, and the east side. That doesn't include special forces such as the gang unit, ADDU, or investigations.
In April, 911 dispatched 12,520 calls for Albany Police. That about 417 calls a day, divided among the three shifts that overlap, that's about seven calls per officer per shift. Some officers have told us that call volume can be a burden.
If an officer is requested, they must respond, forcing them to stop patrols that could prevent burglaries or another emergency.
Compare that to Valdosta Police where officers average about five calls apiece and much larger Columbus, where beat officers average three calls a shift. It's why 911 asks callers so many questions, to get as much information for the officers as possible to weed out those non-emergency calls.
"We're trying to get that the root of the problem and we're trying to figure out exactly what your emergency is," Floyd said.
For those who think pranking 911 is a laughing matter, its may not be so funny. It's a misdemeanor that comes with a year in jail and fines up to $2,500. Still the calls come in.
"We still get those nuisance calls, those call still come in, we still get the 911 hang up calls of course."
Forcing a dispatcher to return the call, again tying up the line for nothing more than a waste of time.
Dispatchers ask if you accidentally dial 911, stay on the line and tell dispatchers it was a mistake.
The 311 information number has helped with some nuisance calls.
2012 MONTHLY 911 CALL COUNTS for Dougherty County