TRENTON (WWJ) – Gov. Rick Snyder signed new legislation Monday that toughens penalties for those who make false 911 calls.
Until now, enforcement of laws banning bogus emergency calls has been a bit haphazard.
During a stop at the Trenton Fire Department Snyder pointed out that these false alarms are dangerous for everyone.
“It’s dangerous for first responders; it’s dangerous for the citizens as people have to respond, ” said Snyder. “And, if you think about it, if they get called away on a false call other things could be going on where they’re really needed.”
The legislation takes aim at so-called “swatters” who use the Internet to make false emergency phone calls to 911 centers, in the hopes of getting a SWAT team or similar first responders to show up at an innocent person’s address.
“I view this is just good, solid common sense legislation to say there should be a penalty for a false claim, there should be consequences. And this bill in particular was about we can go after you to say you should pay for reimbursing all of the cost of that call,” Snyder said.
House Bill 5431, introduced by Rep. Kurt Heise, (R-20), creates a graduated system of charges for the crime based on whether anyone was harmed during the course of the fake emergency calls.
Under the new law, jail time is a possibility.
“If somebody is injured it would be a 10 year felony as well as, I believe, it’s either a $4,000 or $5,000 fine,” said Rep. Pat Somerville (R-23), who helped get the bill passed. “If somebody is killed it’s a 15 year felony and a $10,000 fine.”
Trenton Fire Chief Bruce Vick said sending firefighters out on false alarms is a potentially dangerous drain on the department’s limited manpower. “Whenever we have a call here — because our manpower is what it is — it empties both of our stations. So, it could absolutely cripple us for a number of minutes until we get back in service,” he said.
Chief Vick said Trenton has applied for a FEMA grant to increase its force, but, until them, there are usually only six firefighters each day to staff both stations.