Port Angeles to consider fining habitual 9-1-1 abusers

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — City officials are considering fining residents who habitually deliberately dial 9-1-1 for non-emergencies.

The proposed city ordinance would be the first on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Port Angeles is leading the way among at least two other North Olympic Peninsula cities, Forks and Port Townsend, where officials also are planning to take up the issue of 9-1-1 abuse in the new year.

At their first meeting in 2013, Port Angeles City Council members will vote on a 9-1-1 misuse ordinance put forward by the city’s police and fire chiefs.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, in council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.

City Police Chief Terry Gallagher and Fire Chief Ken Dubuc presented the City Council with the proposed ordinance Tuesday.

The law would levy a $250 fine against a Port Angeles resident who was found to have purposely called 9-1-1 — managed in Clallam County through Peninsula Communications, or PenCom — for a non-emergency purpose or made 9-1-1 “hang-up” calls at least twice in a year.

A hang-up call is defined as a call that connects to one of Pen Com’s seven dispatch lines that fails to remain connected so the dispatcher can determine the nature of the call or one in which a caller does not answer callbacks from a PenCom dispatcher.

Under the proposed ordinance, a written warning would be followed by the issuance of an civil infraction, similar to a speeding ticket, and a fine.

Misuse more than three times in a year would be considered telephone harassment, a criminal misdemeanor.

Pocket dialing

Gallagher said the proposal is not directed at those who accidentally call 9-1-1, e.g., via “pocket dialing” on a cellphone.

It is aimed at those who regularly and purposefully call 9-1-1 for non-emergencies after repeated reprimands from emergency dispatchers.

“It’s the ones where we can’t get people to cooperate where we need more leverage,” Gallagher said.

In a later interview, Gallagher gave the example of Port Angeles man who regularly drinks too much and then calls 9-1-1 repeatedly in the evenings.

“There is a need for this particular ordinance,” Gallagher said.

City Councilman Dan Di Guilio said Tuesday that he would support the ordinance but was concerned that only one warning might not be enough.

“I’ll support it as is, but personally, I would support two [warnings],” Di Guilio said.

Hang-up calls on rise

According to figures from the Port Angeles police and fire departments, 9-1-1 hang-up calls to PenCom, which covers all of Clallam County, have increased both in number and as a percentage of total 9-1-1 calls over the past four years.

The number of hang-up calls rose from 2,436 in 2009 to 6,402 in 2011.

Hang-ups calls comprised 18.1 percent of all 9-1-1 calls in 2011, up from 8.3 percent of all 9-1-1 calls in 2009.

Fire Chief Dubuc said Wednesday that his paramedics and firefighters are required to respond to every 9-1-1 call to determine if an actual emergency exists.

That takes resources away from other legitimate emergencies, Dubuc explained.

“It’s a level-of-service issue,” he said. “We’re trying to meet a need here, and that’s the bottom line.”

Port Townsend, Forks

Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons plans to meet with his police chief soon after the first of the year to discuss the issue.

Forks Police Chief Rick Bart said he also thinks a similar ordinance is needed in his city, adding that Forks city officials have been discussing it for the past six months.

“We think we need to have it,” Bart said. “It’s prudent to have it on the books.”

Gallagher said the existence of an ordinance dealing with 9-1-1 hang-ups and abuse will be enough to make most people more careful about calling the emergency line.

“I think a warning for most people will probably be sufficient,” Gallagher said.

Dubuc echoed Gallagher’s sentiment, saying he doubts anyone will ever have to write a ticket for a violation of the proposed ordinance.

“I don’t expect to ever have to use it,” Dubuc said.

“My guess is that when people are made aware of the potential consequences, they’ll police themselves.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 19. 2012 5:47PM
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