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Dealing with bogus 911 calls

A Detroit woman died after her 5-year-old son called 911 for help, but the dispatcher thought it was prank and didn't send help. This tragedy has many people in Green Country asking what would happen here in a similar case.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright went to Tulsa's 911 center to get the answer.

46 year old Cheryl Turner is dead, despite her son's best efforts to save her life. He found her unconscious and called 911. "She wasn't breathing and I called 911, tell them to send an emergency truck right now." Robert was a little hard to understand so the dispatcher, thought it was a prank. "I don't care, you shouldn't be playing on the phone, now put her one before I send the police over there and you get in trouble." Robert called back three hours later and that dispatcher sent a crew, but it was too late.

One Tulsa 911 dispatcher's job is to handle abandoned 911 calls, people who call and hang up. They get 1,700 a month and a third, are bogus. The policy is to call them back and if no one answers, send an officer to check. If the hang-up call comes from a pay phone, they let officers in the area know about it. If it comes from a cell phone, there's no current way to locate the caller.

It's not just hang-ups though, 911 dispatchers also deal with plenty of prank calls, people giving fake addresses, even people reporting fake crimes. Tulsa 911 division manager John Hampton: "Had a young lady call and say she'd been abducted and was in the trunk of a car, calling from her cell phone. We had all sorts of people out there looking for her. Turns out she was at home the whole time."

Despite those experiences, Tulsa's protocol is to send an officer to check out the situation, because it's better to be safe than sorry. "You can't always tell if it's a prank. A child may or may not be fully aware of what's going on around him and he may call for help, but, not know what to say."

Children need to know 911 is only for emergencies and when they call, they need to know their address and phone number. Bogus calls take up precious time and resources that should be devoted to real emergencies.
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