Local officials say dispatchers being flooded with nonemergency calls
Clovis Police dispatcher Adam Martinez monitors calls to 911 Wednesday afternoon. Martinez answered 90 calls on Tuesday during his shift, according to Carolyn Aragon, dispatch shift supervisor. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
The dispatch center for 911 is being treated more like an information line than an emergency call center, according to local officials. Callers ask for driving directions, about road conditions, for weather alerts, and a host of other things that are clearly not emergencies, they say.
Misuse of 911 can tie up vital emergency lines and overwhelm dispatchers who need to be available for critical calls, according to Clovis Deputy Police Chief Dan Blair.
During inclement weather resident should tune in to the radio or TV for emergency information, not call 911 to ask what’s going on, he said.
Incomplete or hang-up 911 calls also create issues. If no one answers the phone when a dispatcher calls back, the situation is treated as a possible domestic dispute and two officers are dispatched to the location. This can be a drain on resources if the call was a prank or made in error.
Alisson Herring, a dispatcher for the Chaves County Sheriff’s office, said such calls are received with high frequency, and dispatchers for the Albuquerque police report the same issues.
With 10 emergency lines, the dispatch center at the Clovis Police Department handles all 911 calls for Clovis and Curry County. A minimum of two dispatchers each shift handle all inbound emergency and administrative calls.
As of noon Wednesday, Clovis dispatchers have answered 10,202 calls to 911 this year, according to a report provided by police.
Sometimes determining what is an emergency may be difficult, according to Carolyn Aragon, dispatch shift supervisor. She remembered a call from a woman screaming frantically into the phone that her baby wasn’t breathing. As the woman was guided through questions designed to assess the situation, it came out the baby was a puppy.
“Her baby to her was her puppy,” Aragon said. “A baby to us is a baby.”
Aragon said she has taken calls from people calling because their water heater was flooding, a train was taking too long to pass by or animals were on the loose, or asking for phone numbers and directions.
“You don’t want to be rude on the phone,” she said. “It’s just easy for them to dial 911. It’s also easy to dial 1-411, but they don’t.”
An emergency is classified as a situation involving immediate danger or threat, Blair said. An example might be a car accident, a fire or a crime in progress — situations involving an immediate need for assistance from police or rescuers. The line can be fine and emergencies come in many forms, Blair said. “We encourage people in emergencies to call (911),” he said. “We want you to call.”
But some calls are obviously not emergencies, he said.
The following is a list of numbers to call in nonemergency situations:
• Curry County Sheriff, 769-2335
• Clovis Police Dept., 769-1921
• Clovis Fire Dept., 769-7814
• Clovis Animal Control 769-7893
• Melrose Police Dept., 253-4220
• Texico Police Dept., 482-3314