SEDALIA, Mo. (KMIZ) The Sedalia City Council on Monday issued an ordinance to stop telephone harassment of Public Safety agencies.
“I have answered calls and I have been held hostage by some of these people and I have been labeled a ‘white entitled b**ch,’” Danielle Lauder, Pettis County 911 Joint Communications Director, said. “I have a very soft phone voice and I have been labeled an immature millennial who doesn’t understand the working person.”
Lauder also said some of her operators have been threatened by callers saying they will come to harm them when they are leaving work.
“A lot of our operators were subjected to very abusive and ugly conversations,” Lauder said.
Due to protocol, operators could not ignore phone calls. They have to treat every call as a potential emergency.
Once those questions are answered, they are authorized to disconnect the call. If the same person calls back, they have to go through the same process all over again.
“It’s not a couple of times a day, it’s hundreds of times these people are calling and spending exorbitant amounts of time on the phone with operators and monopolizing their attention,” Lauder said.
“One instance [Lauder] relayed to us there was an active fire going on and she was dealing with this individual on the line that did not want to go on hold,” Mayor Andrew Dawson told ABC 17 News.
Placing callers on hold often added to the problem.
“We attempted to place them on hold,” Lauder said. “They would hang up and call back. It would become a machine gun fire approach to getting someone on the line. It didn’t matter if we were placing them on hold to handle a legitimate life or death emergency and become more argumentative on their next call to the center.”
Joint Communications estimates that it only dispatches 50% of the calls it receives. Lauder added that these disruptive calls were happening when she joined the department in 2020.
“What these people are doing is a denial of service to people experiencing a true emergency,” Lauder said.
As the director, Lauder routinely calls the 9-1-1 line to check on things like equipment and staff.
“So far in 2023 one of these callers has called over 240 times. Comparatively, I’ve only had to call in 49 times. So there is a huge discrepancy,” Lauder said.
Dawson was unaware of the problem until he saw some surprising details of a case he was looking at in his office with Assistant Prosecutor Todd Smith.
“He was going over some details on the case and one of the details we came across was that the individual had called joint dispatch 51 times in a month,” Dawson said.
After speaking with Lauder, he realized this wasn’t an isolated incident. The city quickly got to work on an ordinance. The entire process only took a month before being approved by the City Council on Monday.
According to the city’s website, the “Telephone Harassment of a Public Safety Agency” ordinance has clear definitions for what constitutes harassment and nonemergency calls, and lays out penalties for those in violation.
A first offense will result in a fine, while a second offense — within a year of the first — may lead to jail time.
This ordinance doesn’t in any way abstract calls for emergency services or calls for services, Dawson said.
“What this does is target abuse of the system,” he said.