“We don’t want people afraid to dial 911 if there’s something wrong because they’re worried about getting fined.”
That was Southington Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri, in reference to an ordinance passed last year allowing the town to fine residents who make excessive calls to 911. But no one was fined for making more than 25 such calls during the past fiscal year, after a review by the department.
Medical calls, complaints about crimes in progress or domestic violence, and certain other calls are exempt under the ordinance, which was sparked by the number of calls coming from one location: The Bridge Family Center, a group home for girls on Birchcrest Drive.
The Bridge logged 42 calls over the fiscal year, but many of them were exempt under the ordinance. Next in line was the Motel 6 on Queen Street, with 24 calls.
Margaret Hann, director of The Bridge, said that while most residents of the group home don’t require any police calls, some frequently run away, get into fights or require medical assistance.
However, she said that calls over the past fiscal year are lower than most previous years, and that the group home is working to keep matters under control.
“The Bridge only calls police when necessary, and that’s not going to change,” she said.
Birchcrest Drive neighbors don’t necessarily agree, with one recently telling a reporter that too many types of calls are exempt and that he feels the group home is still “out of control.”
Given that the group home enjoys certain protections under federal law, there are presumed to be limits on what the town can do, limits that have yet to be tested.
While the frustration of neighbors is understandable and regrettable, this newspaper editorialized in December 2017 that passing the ordinance would be going too far because it might have a “chilling effect” on someone who needed to call the police in a genuine emergency.
But after a full fiscal year, that does not seem to be happening, and the police are to be commended for their thoughtful and reasonable handling of the problem.
For the police, public safety is Job 1. So far, it does not appear that public safety in Southington has been jeopardized by the ordinance on 911 calls.