Local police departments are warning parents not to give their children deactivated cellphones because the phones can still call 911.
Plainville dispatcher Al Urso said in the past year there has been an increasing number of 911 calls from children using deactivated cellphones. Most are made by children between six and 13 years old, an age where they are too young to have their own cellphone, but like to use a deactivated phone to play games, Urso said. The problem is the phones can still call 911.
Urso said some of the children tie up the phone lines for up to ten minutes. The dispatcher cannot hang up on the call, and deactivated cellphones cannot be traced. Urso said he believes the problem is getting worse because with more smartphones on the market, more older models are being phased out, and rather than throwing out the devices, parents give them to children.
Meriden Sgt. Darrin McKay, police spokesman, said he isn’t sure if there is a large number of those kinds of calls coming into Meriden dispatch center, but said parent’s shouldn’t give their children an old phone if they don’t understand that 911 is an emergency line.
“It ties up valuable resources,” McKay said. “The time spent trying to find out if it’s an actual emergency wastes time.”
McKay said because deactivated cellphones are untraceable through emergency dispatch, police have to “ping” it to find its location and then send officers to the residence. McKay said with more people having cellphones, there is a larger number of inactive cellphones available. McKay said many stores offer cash for old phones. He encouraged parents to turn in their phones and use the money to buy the child a hand-held video game.
“A six or 10 year old might not have the capacity to know the ramifications of calling 911,” McKay said. “Whether it’s curiosity or accident, it could put people’s lives at risk tying up those resources.”
Paul Vivian, interim executive director of Meriden’s Children First, said the topic of parents giving children cellphones has been discussed more and more, and it opens up opportunities for parents to talk to their children. Vivian said the cellphone can be thought of as a tool, and parents need to tell their children how to use it properly. Parents need to tell their children that the calling feature can be used in an emergency, but not to misuse it and discuss what can go wrong if the child does misuse it, Vivian said.
Vivian said their is no “magic age” to give a child a cell phone. Some children are mature at a young age, and others are not, Vivian said. The parents have to use judgment. If a child calls 911 repeatedly, Vivian said the parents should take the phone away.
If a child is found making repeated calls and the parents are notified about the problem and don’t resolve it, McKay said the parent could be charged with misuse of an emergency communication, a class B misdemeanor. Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire police departments all said they get the occasional misdial, but did not have information about specifically if children with cellphones were making the calls.