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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane 911 call abusers may face jail time under new ordinance

Stop calling 911 for baking advice.

Using the emergency line in Spokane for anything other than to “report a situation that requires prompt service in order to preserve or protect human life or health or property” is now outlawed. Spokane City Council members approved the new ordinance Monday night, and violators could be jailed for up to three months.

But officials stress they plan to use it only in cases involving chronic and extreme abuse and predict it may only affect a couple of people a year. They also said people should still call 911 to report suspicious activity and if in doubt over whether an emergency response would be considered necessary, they should err on the side of caution and call.

Repetitive calling is one behavior the new ordinance is designed to address.

“We’re not talking about five calls,” said Assistant City Attorney Mary Muramatsu, the police department’s legal adviser. “Were talking about 50 or more.”

Among inappropriate 911 calls cited by Muramatsu: a request for a turkey recipe. Another caller made dozens of calls and threatened to continue until police revoked his recent speeding ticket.

Another person has made 184 emergency calls in the past nine months, said police spokeswoman Monique Cotton. She said a police officer confirmed with family members that the person was not facing a true emergency when the calls were made.

The new ordinance requires that anyone who is cited for violating the law must first be given a warning. The maximum penalty is 90 days in jail, though Muramatsu said that much jail time is unlikely.

Officials said many people who abuse 911 have mental health problems. Those offenders could be directed to mental health court, where they would be more likely to get treatment.

“What this is going to do for us is give us the ability to have the court intervene, so we can get people the help they need,” said Lorlee Mizell, director of Spokane County Emergency Communications.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who is the chairman of the Spokane County Emergency Communications Board, said the board was not briefed about the topic. He said he was unaware that nonemergency calls to 911 had become a serious problem, though he doesn’t object to the rule.

“I had no idea that anyone was even looking into it,” Knezovich said.

Mizell said statistics are not kept to show how many 911 calls are not true emergency calls.

The city of Spokane is the first in Spokane County to create a misdemeanor offense to prevent 911 abuse, Mizell said. The law was approved by the City Council on Monday in a 6-0 vote. Councilwoman Amber Waldref was absent.

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