Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Misuse and Abuse of 911

The table below summarizes the responses to misuse and abuse of 911, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.


Responses to Phantom Wireless 911 Calls
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
1Requiring manufacturers to redesign wireless phones Makes phones less susceptible to phantom calls…police agencies, police chief and sheriff organizations, NENA, and other interested parties collaborate to petition the FCC using accurate, recent dataFinancial costs to the wireless industry may be significant
2Recalling preprogrammed wireless phones Addresses phones already on the marketnarrowly tailored to those phone makes and models causing the problemFinancial costs to the wireless industry may be significant
3Underwriting and distributing phone button guards Prevents unintentional speed dialing and redialing of 911wireless manufacturers pay for and distribute the guards, encourage wireless owners to use them, and provide a public assessment of their effectiveness in reducing the problemFinancial costs to the wireless industry may be significant
4Prohibiting automatic 911 dialing Federal law would prohibit the preprogramming of phones to autodial 911; state law would prohibit the use of 911 autodialfederal law targets manufacturers, not phone owners; and state law targets owners, allowing for graduated sanctions against repeat violatorsIf there is resistance to a federal law, an FCC order may serve the purpose; police chiefs in each state may need to collaborate to ensure that state laws are enacted; police may find it difficult to persuade certain groups (such as the elderly) not to use 911 autodial
5Funneling phantom wireless calls through an automated 911- answering system Allows dispatchers to more quickly respond to callsthe FCC supports this approachMay require refinement so as not to adversely affect the deaf; may also require some targeted public education; if wireless manufacturers support this approach over others more costly to them, they should bear the cost of informing customers about how it works, and release the police from liability for using it
Responses to Phantom 911Wireless Calls With Limited Effectiveness
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
6Dispatching officers to all phantom wireless calls Officers respond to all identifiable phantom call locationsthe police agency has a low call loadReduces the time officers have to address verifiable crime and safety problems; once Enhanced 911, Phase II, is fully implemented, the number of identifiable phantom call locations will increase, as will the number of unwarranted dispatches
7Requesting that wireless carriers address phantom calls Police and other organizations ask wireless carriers to voluntarily address the problemthe organizations requesting the voluntary compliance notify the FCC that they have done soCollaborative efforts may be difficult and take time, and voluntary requests have, thus far, proven ineffective
Responses to 911 Misdials and Hang-up Calls
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
8Educating the publicEncourages people to dial carefully and to stay on the line if they accidentally call 911911 centers track causes of misdials and hang-upsGeneral campaigns—as opposed to narrowly tailored ones—are unlikely to correct the problem of misdials; education efforts should be customized, then assessed for effectiveness
9Dispatching officers to landline hang-up calls only when there is evidence of an emergency Reduces the number of unfounded calls that police must handle911 centers follow up on hang-ups by sending callers information packets, and graduated sanctions apply to repeat violatorsInforming the public about the extent to which hang-up calls drain police resources may help police avoid political fallout for responding only when there is evidence of an emergency; it may help to let citizens know that many police departments now make callbacks, a more efficient and effective practice than automatically responding to hang ups
Responses to 911 Hang-Up Calls With Limited Effectiveness
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
10Dispatching officers to all landline hang-up calls Gives police the opportunity to catch criminals by surprise, since operators do not call numbers back before dispatching thema large number of hang-up calls are made by people phoning police to alert them to a crime in progress; however, this is not the caseMost landline hang up calls can be resolved without dispatching officers
11Providing no response to pay phone hang-up calls Dispatchers issue a general alert to officers in the field, but do not dispatch them to the scene unless there is evidence of an emergencyproperty overseers monitor pay phonesRequires property overseers' cooperation
Responses to Nonemergency 911 Calls
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
12Implementing 311 systems Reduces demands on 911 systems; reduces caller frustrationadequate funds are available for 311 technology and staffingStart-up and maintenance costs may be significant
13Educating the public via 911 educators or coordinators Teaches citizens to use 911 appropriatelyeducational initiatives address each aspect of 911 misuse and abuseLess costly than implementing 311 systems
14Targeting violators and applying graduated sanctions Persuades callers to use 911 appropriatelyefforts are specifically tailored to problem people and phones, rather than overly broadCivil sanctions require a system for collecting fines; fines could be used to support additional 911 educational efforts
15Applying crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) to hot-spot pay phonesDecreases the potential for prank 911 calls from these phonesofficers are trained in CPTED principles and techniquesSome phones may need to be relocated (or removed), which can have financial implications for the owners
16Having property overseers monitor hot-spot pay phonesShifts responsibility for monitoring phones to those who are better able to do sopolice have carefully analyzed the problem at hot-spot locations and are willing to educate property overseersSome places, such as schools, may not have enough staff to monitor phones, and may resist phone relocation unless convinced of the seriousness of the problem
Response to Exaggerated Emergency 911 Calls
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
17Targeting education to the people responsible Persuades citizens to use 911 appropriately; police acknowledge and address the underlying concerns that prompt the original 911 calls911 centers can identify specific blocks making the callsRequires 911 centers to identify calls that initially receive a priority response, but are subsequently downgraded in priority once police arrive and assess the situation
Response to Lonely Complainant 911 Calls
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
18Arranging for suitable company for the callers Reduces callers' motivations to call 911 inappropriatelyfamily members or suitable local services are availableCallers may resist assistance; may be time-consuming to ensure appropriate measures are taken