A couple of months ago Princeton RCMP Sergeant Robert Hughes told me abandoned 911 calls comprise the second most frequent demand for service in the community.
There were 182 incidents in 2018, and every single call had to be investigated and followed through. It takes up hundreds and hundreds of hours.
I slouched a little in my chair, when he said that.
The DeMeer family has had a couple of experiences misusing 911.
The first was nearly 20 years ago. On an otherwise uneventful morning one of the boys – who was four at the time – raced into the kitchen, thrust the cordless phone into my hand and headed pell mell for the stairs.
Odd. The phone hadn’t rung.
The 911 operator had to identify herself a couple of times before it sunk in what had happened. The little so-and-so, who was hiding under his bed, had dialed just to see what would happen.
It’s challenging, trying to convince someone from a call centre that you aren’t beating your child when the mental image of stretching your fingers around his neck simply will not go away.
It’s a prank. Everything is fine.
The operator explained that regardless of any assurances, police have to be dispatched every time someone calls 911. What’s to stop a parent, for example, from wrestling the phone away from a child who has managed to call for help, and then proceeding to act like it was all some silly misunderstanding?
Expect a cruiser to arrive shortly, she said.
While I was mumbling about giving the child something to call 911 about, and debating on whether or not the occasion warranted make up and a quick wipe of the breakfast dishes, the local police telephoned.
That’s the beauty of living in a small town. The constable was a fellow I knew well – we’d attended Sunday School together – and he was not impressed.
Do I seriously have to drive all the way out there to make sure you are not killing your kids?
If you hurry, I wisecracked, you might actually be able to stop me.
We chatted for a bit and – not relishing the 25 minute trip to our rural home – Officer Barry said he was going to trust me and move on to some actual police work.
This story got worked over so many times around the dinner table at family gatherings, it was amazing another DeMeer child pulled the same stunt a few years later.
This time the culprit was older – at least ten – and was playing at home with a group of friends when they decided it would be fun to test emergency services. They dialed 911. When the operator answered there was general panic and they disconnected the call.
It would have been interesting to be in that room, to judge the expressions on those little faces, when the phone rang immediately.
It was 911 calling back.
I don’t know what was said in that conversation but upon arriving home from a shopping trip I was greeted by two police cars and four officers in the driveway. Predictably the neighborhood friends had scattered, leaving the DeMeer child holding the bag…er…the phone.
Nice show of force. Teach the kid a lesson. I wanted him in the back of a cruiser. I wanted a ride “downtown” and a tour of the holding cells. Maybe the local detachment could use some free janitorial labor?
We lived in a large county that regularly had four cruisers on the road at any given time.
Half of the available police were wasting precious time on my back porch when they might have been needed for a serious call; a car accident on the other side of the region, a woman needing help in a domestic crisis, or a robbery.
Two officers decamped in short order and the largest one who remained got down on his knees – eye level to the perpetrator – and with a voice and language more appropriate to addressing a preschooler, explained the serious nature of 911.
The phone is not a toy, little guy.
Nine-one-one is something you only use in a real emergency, if there is a fire or you are really hurt. You don’t want to be the boy who cries wolf. Some day you might really need us to come help you right? Do you understand why you can’t play around with 911?
The child’s shoulders slacked with relief when the officer stood up, brushed off his trousers and prepared to leave.
WAIT! Everyone froze. That’s it? A nice talk? Why don’t you give him a lollipop while you are at it? What about some punishment? What about some consequences for his actions?
The officer puzzled for a minute and asked the boy – what do you like to do?
Hockey, he mumbled. He liked to play hockey.
Well, the cop considered. Do you like to watch hockey? He eyed the Habs jersey on the floor in the corner. There’s a hockey game on TV tonight, Montreal versus Toronto. Are you planning on watching that game?
Big blue eyes started to tear.
It’s my decision, the cop went on, that you will not be allowed to watch the first ten minutes of that hockey game. Maybe that will give you something to remember.
In that instant I understood everything that is wrong with the Canadian justice system.
The police left and those blue eyes followed me warily.
You. Are. In. So. Much. Trouble. The kids always knew it was serious when Mom talked without moving her lips.
Then I placed the phone on the top of the fridge.
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