‘Blatant misuse’ of 911 leads to victims waiting on the line in real emergencies in Mississauga and Brampton, police say


Published August 31, 2023 at 1:56 pm

Police are dealing with an ever-increasing volume of frivolous or non-emergency calls to 911, tying up resources and leaving people waiting during actual emergencies in Mississauga and Brampton.

Numbers from Peel Regional Police (PRP) show there were some 644,000 calls to 911 dispatched through the police call centre – the most emergency calls the force has ever received in a single year.

All 911 calls that come into the region are sent to Peel Regional Police to determine whether to send fire, EMS, police, or a combination of the three.

Police say the 911 numbers are on track for another record year in 2023, and the sheer volume of calls has created a “bottleneck” for dispatchers as police say more than 40 per cent of 911 calls are far from being classified as an emergency.

It’s also leading to people waiting on the line as dispatchers work through a constant stream of calls, like in the case of a Brampton family who were victims of a home invasion on July 1.

Police say suspects broke into the home in the area of Highway 410 and Williams Parkway. After calling 911 the family waited some three minutes and 45 seconds before connecting with dispatchers, and it was another four minutes before officers arrived on the scene, said PRP Const. Tyler Bell-Morena.

“Any amount of time being ‘on hold’ in that situation is, quite frankly, unacceptable and must feel like an eternity,” he said, adding that incoming 911 calls are placed in a queue rather than being “put on hold.”

“Under no circumstances is someone calling, screaming for help, and we’re saying ‘please hold’ – that’s not what’s happening,” Bell-Morena said.

And while the distinction between being “put on hold” and “in a queue” might seem like splitting hairs, Bell-Morena said wait times are an unfortunate reality as over a third of emergency calls fall under “a blatant misuse of 911.”

“This is where the system gets backlogged,” he said, pointing to examples of people calling to complain about their coffee order, accidentally dialing 911, or using the emergency line to report crimes that have already taken place like vehicle thefts.

But with the number of non-emergency calls on the rise again this year, Bell-Morena stressed that it’s the PRP non-emergency line that residents should be calling unless you need police on scene “in a few seconds.”

The Peel Regional Police non-emergency line can be reached by calling 905-453-3311.

“Really ask yourself – is the police being here in a few seconds really a pivotal request here…or is it something that a police officer needs to come and take a report for and there’s no sense of urgency?” Bell-Morena said.

Caller hang-ups are also leading to “a bottleneck” in the 911 system, Bell-Morena said.

“When you call 911, under zero circumstances do you hang up…that disconnected 911 call now gets assigned to a call taker that has to follow up with it. The only way for our 911 system to work efficiently and the way it was designed is if people follow the instructions and stay on the line,” he said.

Last fall, Peel Regional Police took to social media to urge people to educate themselves on the proper use of 911 after it was revealed that 115,000 callers had simply hung up the previous year.

Here are some 911 tips from Peel Regional Police:

  • call 911 only when someone needs immediate help from firefighters, police or paramedics
  • call 211, 311 or 811 or police non-emergency lines for other help
  • lock their cell phones and don’t program 911 into the devices
  • teach children how to use 911 correctly and how to recognize emergencies
  • stay on the phone if you call 911 by accident so you can let the operator know you’re okay and it’s not an emergency.
  • If you hang up, operator may send emergency services to your location

With files from Declan Finucane

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