911 “pocket dials” an increasing distraction for police

BAR HARBOR — Accidental calls to emergency 911 numbers are becoming an increasing problem for police departments here and elsewhere as smartphones and ease of access become more widespread.

The department here is receiving up to a dozen “pocket dials” a day this summer. And even while officers can be all-but-certain that each call is nothing more than a mistake, they must treat each one as if it were a serious situation, Sgt. David Kerns said. These calls are eating up department resources at an increasing rate.

“We handle each one as if it were an emergency that somebody’s been disconnected on,” Sgt. Kerns said. “The one that we don’t go to could be the one that is a bad call.”

Smartphones are increasingly equipped with features that allow for 911 emergency calls even while the phone screen is dark and locked. This often leads to calls to 911 during which the regional dispatcher can hear rustling from pockets or bags, but the caller cannot hear them.

Some cell phone calls present the dispatcher with general information on where the caller is calling from, while others just present information on which tower the call is being fed through. This can often lead to extremely broad interpretations of where the caller might be, Sgt. Kerns said.

“17,000 meters from the Hutchins Lane tower in Hulls Cove encompasses our entire jurisdiction,” he said. “It’s kind of like looking for a moving needle in a haystack.”

Even with such scant information, officers will go through the process of trying to call the caller back, and based on the results, likely sending a patrol car to look for possible problems.

The Bar Harbor police department has received 441 pocket 911 dials to date this year.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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