Emergency 911 number called 76 times in one week by unregistered phone

A single unregistered cellphone called the 911 emergency service line 76 times in the span of a week, Waterloo, Ont. Regional police say.

From March 31 to April 7, emergency operators could hear static or people talking in the background, but no one was on the line, police spokesperson Cherri Greeno told CBC.

Phones that are not currently registered to phone companies, such as old devices that no longer have a SIM card or service contract, can still be used to call 911.

"It doesn't seem to be an emergency," Greeno said of the calls, which came in the mornings or evenings around dinnertime.

"It appears, and most likely the case is, that a parent has an old cellphone that they're no longer using, but hasn't taken the battery out so they've given it to maybe their child to play games on or a toddler to just play with and keep them occupied. And somehow 911 is being called."

Exact location of calls unknown

The 911 operators have to stay connected on the line until the call is ended to ensure there is not an emergency.

"Because the phone is unregistered, it's hard to get an exact location," she said.

Operators have been able to narrow the location down to an area in Kitchener, but without a precise address officers would need to knock on all doors in the neighbourhood to find the phone.

Greeno noted the officers would do that if they believed the call was for an actual emergency.

Because the phone is unregistered, it has no identifying callback number so officials can't phone it or send a text message indicating that it's being used to call 911.

"We understand that these things can happen," Greeno said. "But at the same time, it can become frustrating for our dispatchers."

Waterloo Region emergency operators normally receive almost a thousand calls each day.  

About 75 of those calls every day are pocket dials – where a jostled phone in a pocket or purse accidentally dials an emergency number. Greeno said these kinds of calls can tie up resources needed for actual emergencies.

"We just ask people to pay attention –  if they have an old phone, take the battery out. Don't give a phone, whether it's registered or unregistered, to a child to play with," she said.

"Just be cautious."