38 Percent Of All 911 Calls In NYC Are Accidents, Most Are 'Butt Calls'

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Alamy
Alamy

Nearly 4 in 10 calls placed to New York City 911 operators in 2010 were made inadvertently, and most fell into the category of "butt calls" or "pocket calls" -- those annoying accidental dials that occur when a phone is in a person's pocket or purse.

That amounts to around 3.9 million butt calls in 2010 or about 10,700 false calls per day, according to a report commissioned by Mayor Bloomberg and released on Friday.

The New York Daily News explains that Bloomberg reluctantly released the report due to mounting pressure from New York firefighter unions, who wanted data on the city's emergency system made public following the construction of a $680 million call center consolidating police, fire and medical dispatchers.

As Gothamist notes, Bloomberg may have been justified in wanting to conceal the report: its numbers don't reflect too highly on the city's emergency response system.

In addition to the nearly 4 million butt calls in 2010 -- more than the 3.5 million calls that were found to be placed during actual emergencies -- the city was also reported to be plagued by a slow, error-ridden emergency call system.

"[Consultants] found that call operators waste time on duplicative questions and employ inconsistent questioning procedures," read the report, according to Gothamist. "The system, it found, sends some responders to the wrong address and slows fire and medical dispatchers' efforts to give instructions to callers."

Butt dials have caused problem for emergency alert systems in other cities as well.

A dispatch center in Clearwater, Florida reported that around 20 percent of emergency calls taken in 2010 were apparently from butt dials, with responders often spending 30 seconds or more trying to decipher what's happening and calling back the number.

An investigation on butt dials from South Carolina news station 7 On Your Side found that one dispatch station averaged 93 bull dials or hang-ups per day, which over the course of one week added up to two weeks of wasted time.

As for New York City, butt dialing doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Mayor Bloomberg admitted last week that he hadn't even read the $500,000 report on New York's emergency system.

"They can make up anything they want to say," he told reporters on Tuesday.