911 Dispatchers See Increase in “Social Distancing” Complaints
Some 911 dispatch centers are seeing a spike in calls in recent weeks due to people reporting others for violating executive orders and guidelines on social distancing.
But not every call is an emergency, and calling the police on your neighbors may not be in everyone’s best interest.
“We have been receiving a lot more phone calls from citizens, observing other citizens not necessarily abiding by ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe,” said 911 Director of Leelanau County, Matt Ansorge.
For dispatchers in Leelanau County, there are calls every day about violations. Ansorge says, “Most predominantly, social distancing. Whenever there’s a group of people together that are obviously within six feet of one another that prompts a phone call.”
That’s even happened with small groups: take the report over the weekend of a “crew working on a lawn” for the second day in a row. It turned out to be brother and sister working in the yard. Or a call for “private contractors doing construction”. That also turned out to be family members.
Ansorge says, “We have encountered what people suspected were workers, and they turn out to be family members, whether they’re inside a business or at a private residence. Family members are exempt from that.”
He says there are some legitimate complaints, but most are not. And that puts first responders at risk. “Every time we make a complaint we have to send a responder. If it is something more frivolous we don’t want to have to expose our law enforcement, our fire, EMS personnel to something that they normally wouldn’t have been exposed to without that phone call.”
In Grand Traverse County, Sheriff Tom Bensley says dispatchers are asking extra health questions so responders know what they’re heading in to. “The calls are being pre-screened by Central Dispatch, asking the calling party a few basic COVID-19 related questions. They are asking the caller, they are screening them for virus symptoms.”
And all Grand Traverse County officers are now wearing gloves and masks. “All our officers are wearing masks and gloves when dealing with the public, as a precautionary measure for our officers. So right now our main concerns is to protect our officers not only here but also at the jail.”
It’s not easy for these professionals to apply across-the-board advice, since every call is considered on a case by case basis. And with more than 30 Executive Orders from Lansing the rules keep changing. Sheriff Bensley says, “When these orders come out it takes a while to digest them and understand exactly what the intent is and how to handle those.” Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel says “it’s like building a plane while it’s already in the air.”
Sheriff Schendel asks you to use common sense. “It’s a crazy mixed-up world right now and we’ve just got to apply common sense. The only thing we should be concerned about are large gatherings. Because that’s what’s been proven to possibly spread the disease.” But they’re getting so many calls, Benzie County has one deputy assigned specifically to address Coronavirus-related complaints.
Ansorge adds, “If it’s obviously on private property and people are exercising social distancing, let’s not expose our responders to that situation.”
If it’s not a true emergency – don’t use 911. Take a minute to look up your county’s non-emergency number for Central Dispatch.
Grand Traverse Non-Emergency (231) 922-4550
Benzie Non-Emergency (231) 882-4487
Leelanau Non-Emergency (231) 256-9829