Accidental calls, sometimes called 'butt dialing,' is a headache for 911 operators

Chasing 'phantom calls' a waste for police

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. - It's being called a nationwide epidemic, and it's also a serious problem in Tampa Bay.  Pocket dialing, or as you might know it better, 'butt dialing,' is tying up 911 call centers and forcing police to chase after trouble that doesn't exist.

One of many examples was a Pasco County woman who accidentally called 911 Friday while in a Burger King drive-through. But people misdial all the time.‬

‪"In average shift, 10-, maybe 20-percent of my calls are unverified 911's," said Pasco Sheriff's deputy James Parsons.

‪Parsons says most people who misdial have no idea they've called 911. ‬

‪Most unintentional calls happen when people sit on their cell phones, put them in a purse, or hit the wrong button.‬

‪But every call still needs to be taken seriously.‬

‪"I do remember a case where the call came in as an unverified, and come to find out a person had deceased. And it was a child that actually called us," said Parsons.

‪Many times when those phantom 911 calls are traced, it leads deputies to where the cell phone was. So they end up at a random spot on the road or in front of a cell phone tower.

‪"It can be frustrating, especially when we have a stacked call screen with other calls we need to get to," said Parsons.

‪911 dispatchers like Joel Wilson have to stay on the line until the call drops off. Then he'll try and call the number back. "A lot of times with the new smart phones they have the emergency buttons, so they are like 'Oh, I'm having problems with my phone, I keep hitting the emergency button.‬'

‪There are rare occasions when a butt dial is helpful to police. Operators in Volusia County heard Matthew Dollarhide in the middle of a drug deal, and it lead to his arrest.‬

‪But most of the time, it's a waste of time..‬

‪So the message is, be more careful with your phones and who you are calling.‬

Print this article Back to Top