State law to punish
prank 911 calls

Phony reports can now mean a
year in prison and $2,000 fine

Every time a phony report is phoned into 911, officials say, emergency personnel risk their lives.

"It puts our units, our emergency service units, in danger when they're out there with their blue lights and sirens, trying to weave through the traffic."

Lt. Charles Chong
Honolulu police Communications Division

"It puts our units, our emergency service units, in danger when they're out there with their blue lights and sirens, trying to weave through the traffic," said Lt. Charles Chong, of the Honolulu police Communications Division.

Gov. Linda Lingle signed legislation yesterday designed to cut down on the number of false and prank calls made to the 911 emergency telephone system.

The new law makes a false alarm caused by a false report to 911 a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Chong said he believes a prank call caused the death of officer Issac Veal on Aug. 16 when he lost control of his vehicle on the H-2 freeway while responding to a report of 10 to 15 people fighting in Mililani. When other officers arrived at the scene, there was no fight.

The Honolulu Police Department, which operates the emergency 911 system on Oahu, receives about 21,000 calls to the system per week. Ten to 15 are false reports. About 400 are what police classify as "drop calls," in which callers hang up before a dispatcher answers. Most are believed to be pranks, because they are made from cellular and public pay telephones.

The Police Department has received prank calls from people claiming to be giving birth, claiming to be kidnapped or reporting horrific traffic accidents in which cars are overturned with people pinned inside, Chong said.

"These are the things that we are trying to stop with this (law)," he said.

Lingle believes the best way to stop prank calls is to pursue the toughest prosecution and penalties for people who make them.

"We will impress upon the prosecutor how important it is to make an example of anyone who does this," Lingle said.

The Kauai Prosecutor's Office told state lawmakers that a wanted fugitive was able to divert officers who were about to arrest her by making false emergency reports on the 911 system with her cellular telephone.

Dispatchers are not able to trace calls made by cellular telephones, but that will change when the counties establish enhanced wireless 911 systems.

Cellular telephone service providers began charging their customers 66 cents per month last year to pay for the system, which will let 911 operators know the location and subscriber of a call made from a cellular telephone.

Chong said Maui County is expected to have its system working by the end of the year, and Honolulu should follow a few months later.

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