A bill adding criminal penalties for harassing 911 dispatchers or abusing the 911 system in Alaska is advancing closer to a vote in the state Senate after the Legislature failed to pass it last year.
The bill from Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, would make threatening a 911 dispatcher a Class B misdemeanor. Repeatedly calling 911 after being asked to stop would also be a misdemeanor.
The Senate Finance Committee heard the bill on Wednesday.
The legislation was inspired in part by an incident in which one person called 911 more than 85 times in an eight-hour period during a July 4 holiday.
“The male was screaming and yelling profanities and threatening dispatch and anyone who would respond to his residence,” according to an account provided to legislators by dispatchers for Matcom, which serves the Wasilla area.
Though an “extreme instance,” dispatchers said there are “many other instances” in which frustrated people “make it their mission to continue to harass our department by repeatedly calling 911 just to prove a point or disrupt the center.”
James Cockrell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said that if signed into law, the bill could be a deterrent that allows dispatchers “to say, ‘you’re committing a crime, if you don’t stop calling us, we’ll send troopers out or the local police department out to potentially arrest you.’”
Cockrell said he doesn’t expect the law would be used often, but he believes it could be useful.
He offered a hypothetical: What if someone called in a fake fire to 911 and the fire department wasted its time responding?
“It does happen,” he said. “The hard part is trying to find the person who did it, but if we do, at least this will give us a mechanism for charging them, because right now, I’m not sure that we’d be able to.”
Twenty-three states have similar laws on the books, and Wilson’s proposal passed the Senate last year but failed to pass the House before the end of the 32nd Legislature.
That required Wilson to start over, and partially because senators are already familiar with it, they advanced his bill quickly (and with no changes) through the Senate Judiciary Committee and on to Finance.
Assuming the finance committee passes the bill, its next stop will be the Senate floor, where legislators expect it to pass.
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