With Growing Cell Phone Use, ‘Butt Dials’ To 911 Also Rising

CHICAGO (CBS) — If you’ve ever received a call because someone you know “butt-dialed” you, you know how annoying it can be. But when someone “butt-dials” 911, it’s not just an inconvenience, it’s a public safety issue.

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, officials in Evanston say that nearly 20 percent of the wireless calls they get each month are “unintentional” or “abandoned” calls; and they believe the vast majority of those unintentional cell phone calls are butt dials.

Emergency workers said those kinds of calls waste valuable time and could put people at risk.

About 500 times each month, someone mistakenly dials the Evanston 911 center from their cell phone and that’s only part of the story.

“I don’t think the public realizes how often this happens,” Evanston 911 Coordinator Perry Polinski said.

He said about 90 percent of those unintentional calls are the result of someone fumbling around in their purse or sitting on their cell phone and accidentally speed dialing 911.

“When you consider the number of these types of calls that we receive, it really taxes our resources,” Polinski said.

Operators have to stay on the line until the call drops, then call back the number to see if there’s a real emergency. Since cell phones can only be tracked by general location, in extreme cases officers are dispatched to find whoever might be in distress.

“The chances of that happening are slim, but we’ve – a couple times probably, over the past few years – have had to basically launch a search party to locate somebody,” Polinski said.

Each time, it turned out to be either a misdial or a child making a prank call, Polinski said.

Speed dialing is a convenience marketed by cell phone makers, many pre-programming one-touch 911 emergency service, even when the phone is locked.

Evanston resident Blair Parkinson said, “If I type my lock code wrong, it’ll go to, like, the emergency screen; so … that’s the only number you can call from there, so sometimes it will … you could press a button and it will call it.”

National emergency management agencies have said the problem is cropping up across the country. Law enforcement officials, like those in Evanston, have said it could be reduced if cell phone users were just a little more careful.

Polinski said if a misdial comes in at the same time as an actual emergency when several legitimate calls might be coming in at the same time, “then you have to devote the time that you would otherwise be using to field the rest of the phone calls to make sure that … everything’s okay with that one call.”

What can cell phone users do to avoid mistakenly calling 911? They should cover the touch pads or keyboards of their phones when they’re not in use and, if you realize you have mistakenly dialed 911, stay on the line and let the operator know it was a mistake.

More from Vince Gerasole
  • Gibbs Bentley

    Meanwhile back at Reality Ranch … 4 or more illegal wars rage on, the dollar is about to vanish as the world reserve currency, the real unemployment rate is over 22%, the price of goods is skyrocketing, the value of homes is dropping and as the 3rd year of the depression carries on … Butt Dials is the news we are given. Degenerate. http://911essentials.com

    • John

      There are plenty of news stories about your illegal wars, the vanishing dollar and the unemployment rate. You’re the knucklehead that 1. decided to click on this article; and 2. wasted his ‘valuable’ time moaning about it in the comments.

    • BRBSanDiego

      Cell phone users are so rude, self centered, and immature that I can suggest a real butt dial for them – smear some of that Kentucky Fried Chicken grease on your phone and shove it up your azz.

    • Albert911emt

      Your conspiracy theories are not reality. Quit being such a baby.

    • J D

      Illegal wars? Obama is a killing machine. Go Obama.

    • Kellen Dunkelberger

      The dollar is not going to be replaced by something else. Which currency do you think is up to the job? The Euro!?

      • cogito ergo sum

        The Yuan is going to replace us eventually.

      • SDR

        Go look up SDR’s . The dollar is dead and will go away as you know it. Look for a bank holiday after the new year and a over 50% drop in value. That’s not the same dollar. But hey, if you think so leave your wealth in FRN’s in the bank instead of buying gold and silver and see what you get.

      • lostmyfreedom

        no the dollar is going to be worthless because it will practically have no purchasing power anywhere. The dollar will be replaced by a new world currency.

      • Rothberg

        Yea because the Dollar will ALWAYS be the reserve currency…Right? (Sarcasm). Just this week, the federal reserve took purchasing power from every american by lowering the rate on currancy swaps so that more reckless banks get bailed out.

    • B C

      Thanks Gibbs – I agree!

  • Mitch Pawl

    20% of the cops have butts that are toooo big to fit into a squad car.

  • Jasonn

    My cell automagically locks the keyboard if there is no input/activity within a given number of seconds that you can set. There is no excuse for those butt dialed calls.

    • jim

      No excuse for butt dialed calls? my last phone was a flip phone, it would get online in my pocket and buy apps because the buttons would not lock when it was closed.

    • josh

      Actually there is. When my blackberry locks — if the keypad is triggered the phone gives three choices 1) Unlock 2) Make EMERGENCY Call 3) Cancel. I believe our crack reporter is mistaken in assuming the spike in 911 calls results from the inadvertent sequential 9 1 1 dialing and more likely the more simple inadvertent ‘Make Emergency Call’ on a blackberry WHEN the phone is in fact locked. Not sure if same choice is given by other phones. Regaurdless, Blackberry could easily reduce it’s contibution to the problem by requiring a couple confirmation clicks before the ass click ties up valuable emergency responder time.

      • Steven

        You are right — I was inserting a SIM chip into my phone and it rejected the chip, and without a valid chip its default condition was just a message “Invalid SIM chip” with only one option — “call for help”. Thinking this meant it would call my cell company for tech support I did so: “911, what’s your emergency?”. OOPS!

  • Opposing Digits

    I’m having a hard time believing these “butts” are dialing 911 on their own.

    • Schumway

      Well they’re certainly a**holes!

    • Chris Hansard

      911 is programmed by the manufacturer into all speed dials on cell phones – this is a very easy thing to do when all it requires is the bump of the number one on your cell.

  • http://www.theinformationnation.com/?p=1479 With Growing Cell Phone Use, ‘Butt Dials’ To 911 Also Rising « CBS Chicago | The Information Nation

    […] With Growing Cell Phone Use, ‘Butt Dials’ To 911 Also Rising « CBS Chicago. Posted in Other […]

  • jack

    What a crock. 500 calls a month. They probably have 255 vacation days in excess of community standard in that call center. That’s two calls a day for some 911 attendant. Quit taking time off if you think the resources are so “taxed”

    • Luke

      Obviously you’re an expert and ‘in the know’. When did you last work in a 911 center? Are you the type who is going to whine about a wait for a calltaker to answer when you have to dial 911 for real- while all operators are busy trying to find idiot cellcallers? And why do people have to have 911 as a speedial? (Because it’s such a hard number to remember and dial?)

    • Chicago Jack

      You don’t know what the fluck you’re talking about BRO. I worked in a suburban 911 center for 7 years while crippled from MS and the phones ring all day every day. I can only imagine the madness in that Daley Oblamo made ghetto known as Chicago to the southeast of us.

      EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR, all through the day and night, even on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and on and on for the most part because this area’s been overrun by ignorant m o r o n s who call 911 for anything and everything except what it was intended for

      60% of them are too dang i g n o r a n t and stupid to think for themselves with about 90% of that 60% being G*D Dam& illegal aliens and ghetto snipes who can’t even speak comprehensive English most of the time. Talk about freaking nightmares..not to mention the freaking selfish people like you who think we owe you people something when you call crying for the cops you all hate so much.

      So next time you need an er dispatch to your crib just identify yourself so we can tell you to go get flucked, hows that buddy?

    • Cee Vee

      The cushiest and most powerful job in America for basic idiots is to be a cop. They are a shame to the system and easily the most privileged and abusive class in public service. The media constantly portray them as heroes and parasitic politicians do not miss a chance to say that the cops put their lives in danger every day (It is the citizens whose lives the cops endanger every day. The cops have the guns and the power. The citizens can’t even have a pair of nose scissors in their car. It’s a terrorist weapon, you see). The nerve those cops have to even complain!

  • kevin

    happens to me all the time. even when my phone is locked. and if i try to unlock it, sometimes it gets stuck on the emergency page and automatically dials. it seems to occur often with blackberry users. if they didn’t put the emergency dial next to the unlock option, it probably wouldn’t happen as much.

  • J-Chi

    Why would anyone still be using a Blackberry?

    • Uncle O'Remus

      Because for the most part only i d i o t s use these arm and leg costing so called smart phones, that’s why. Freaking people who can’t even dress in decent clothes walking down the sides of the roads who are spending 100 a month for a pocket phone they peck at like robots every second.

      Invading Aliens would think that’s the human brain nowadays, and frankly for most people using them it’s the nearest thing to a brain they’ll ever have in this life..

  • nobody

    the problem here is that some phones can still dial and call 911 even when the keypad is locked

  • LEL

    “butt dial” may assets.

  • JR

    “What can cell phone users do to avoid mistakenly calling 911? They should cover the touch pads or keyboards of their phones when they’re not in use and, if you realize you have mistakenly dialed 911, stay on the line and let the operator know it was a mistake.”


    …and then apologize for being a doofus and remember to put your phone in it’s case. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re going to stay a problem.

  • Idi Amin Dada

    With a land line, if you dial 9 and hang up they treat it as if you had fully dialed 911 and they will send police. My 3 year old discovered this.

  • m. king

    Next time bring some cheese with the wine.

  • chuck

    A federal law mandates that cell phone companies allow an emergency call be made from a locked keyboard.

    So this actually happened to me one time. I had no idea that a call could be made after I locked the keyboard.

    So the feds make a law and complain later because of an unwanted side effect.

    • Will

      Thank you josh and chuck! You nailed it.
      I’m a BES administrator and that’s a pretty big complaint among the users I manage.
      I get asked all the time if there’s a way to disable that “feature”…
      It’s absurdly easy to make a 911 butt dial on a locked BlackBerry phone.
      Government mandates and the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    • george

      Har! What else is new?

  • Dan

    How about pressuring cell phone manufacturers into changing the way their phones work in order to diminish this problem? No? FH’s.

  • E911

    I am a 911 dispatcher and the general public has no idea what a problem this causes. We receive tons of “butt dials” all day everyday. We hear talking, yelling, loud music, and most of all, children playing. People are not responsible and somehow let their phones dial 911 without realizing it. Also, wake up people! Do not give your child your old non-working phone! The ONLY thing the phone can do is call 911. And then us dispatchers have to listen to your child playing on the phone while there are true life-threatening emergency calls coming in at the same time.

    • JR

      How is that even possible if a person has a seemingly dead phone that isn’t attached to a paid service?

      • Why?

        As long as it has enough charge, it can probably call 911. When I got a new cell phone, I gave my old one to a local women’s shelter. They give them to women who have crazy exes stalking them.

      • Niki Maita

        All phones are still able to call 911 for emergency purposes as long as it has a working battery.

    • Norbutt

      Oh the horror! I cannot fathom the annoyance and discomfort you’ve been through. It must be tragic to decide between listening to a child playing from an obvious misdial and another caller screaming about blood, he’s not breathing and background gunshots. Whatever we can do to make your job easier? A new 911 property tax levy to greatly increase hiring and salaries? You got it. I’m sorry you have suffered so greatly. There aught to be more laws. We taxpayers will pay whatever you say each year.

      • Seriously?

        If the article is accurate, the problem is not the “annoyance and discomfort” but for the the fact the dispatcher is REQUIRED TO WAIT ON THE LINE and then call the person back to establish if there is a true emergency, regardless of how obvious it is that the call wasn’t intentional. Nothing in the post you replied to (nor in the article this is about) has to do with raising taxes to prevent this issue – only that people should be more careful.

      • Free Derry

        LG or Samsung $25 flip phone. It looks like late 90’s Motorola. Very simple and quiet phone. Highly drop resistant, cannot dial 911 accidentally and nobody will ever want to steal it. I swear by it.

  • alanwillingham

    I searched stores and websites for months in a vain attempt to find a Cell Phone without all the exterior buttons that beep every time I walk, bend, turn, or reach for something. My conclusion is that they want this to happen to overload the system or someone in Government Regulation owns an interest in a Replacement Battery factory

  • guestguy

    “Since cell phones can only be tracked by general location, in extreme cases officers are dispatched to find whoever might be in distress” That is so completely bogus it’s not even funny, this piece is to calm everyone down who has seen stories of tracking floating around the web lately.

    A couple of years ago I saw a pretty bad head on accident happen while driving through palatine, so I called 911. I didn’t know where I was, the operator asked me what the intersection was and I said I didn’t know. She ended up telling me I was standing in the NW corner of the Ace hardware parking lot on the corner of blah and blah…

    General location my a$$.

  • george

    I like the unintended calls to 911 where the dispatcher gets to listen in on a conversation between perps who are in the act of committing a crime. This happens often enough to end up on “World’s Dumbest” fairly frequently. Imagine the shock the perps experience when the cops show up suddenly.

  • Occupy Colon

    911 Operator: 911, what’s your emergency?
    Larry Sinclair’s Butt: Help! The president of the United States keeps poking me…

  • schmuck281

    I just retired after 20 years as a 911 Dispatcher. I think 20% is an underestimation.
    And about 50% of the calls that are not a misdial are for things that do not remotely qualify as an emergency.

  • Free Derry

    I use a little featureless LG flip phone I paid $22 in cash with rechargeable SIM card. Cover snaps shut tight and the only recessed button on the side, if accidentally pressed, brings up the date and on second press the time. I love it. No data plan. No texting. No GPS. No accidental 911. I feel liberated giving up my $400 ‘smart’ phone, not to mention the yearly savings. I’d go back to a pager if I didn’t have kids.

  • http://www.fastnews.tv/?p=121823 COPS: 20% of cell phone calls to 911 are 'butt dials'... | Breaking News

    […] (Third column, 12th story, link) […]

  • Ronb

    if somebody’s big butt was sittin on you all the time, wouldn’t you dial 911

  • Jeff

    20% is a conservative estimate. My center answers over 500,000 cellcalls a year and I’m hedging that more than 60% are buttdials, pranks and open lines. A trace ties up a dispatcher upwards of 5 minutes; we staff a minimum of 4; and it’s not unusual for everyone to be tied up trying to track down the location of one of these types of callers. I feel bad to the public who are stuck in the queue for minutes because of this.

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