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Being 'held hostage at a traffic light,' spider, lost glasses are among reasons for surge of non-emergency 911 calls in Atlanta

"The red light is so long. It’s so infuriating,” a man said during a 911 call. “It is a crime, and I’d like to press charges I guess.”

ATLANTA — Non-emergency 911 calls are clogging up Atlanta's E-911 system and taking up dispatchers' valuable time. Now, the city is pleading with people only to call 911 for actual emergencies.

Most people expect to spend time waiting at red lights, but that wasn't the case for a driver at Marietta Street NW and Howell Mill Road in August. 

"The red light is so long. It’s so infuriating,” a man said during a 911 call. “It is a crime, and I’d like to press charges I guess.”

The dispatcher said, “Press charges on who?” The caller replied, “I guess against the city for kidnapping me and holding me hostage at a traffic light.”

Atlanta E-911 Director Desiree Arnold said this is just the beginning of the non-emergency calls dispatchers have to deal with. 

“Our staff is tied up two to three minutes trying to explain to someone why we can't send someone out to find their glasses or why the traffic light held too long," Arnold said. “We received calls about people wanting to know what day of the week it is. 'Is the hospital open tomorrow because I have to go to work today?'" 

Another recent call was over a spider. A woman said to a dispatcher, “I understand 911 is to protect and serve people, but I need help, and it’s not no people or person matter. It’s for a spider.”

“It’s for a spider?” the dispatcher responded.

“Yeah, I tried to call the exterminator, but they’re charging!” the caller said. 

“Ma'am, the police cannot come out for a spider,” the dispatcher said. 

Arnold said calls like these can affect response times for true emergencies. 

“These are times that we can be spending actually working a call where someone was shot, someone was robbed, someone was stabbed, someone's chasing me," Arnold said. 

11Alive also obtained the 911 call made for a pair of lost eyeglasses. 

“My wife lost her glasses, and we need help finding them,” the caller said. “They’re out here in this grass.”

“I’m sorry. You said her glasses were lost?” the dispatcher said.

The caller said they needed to find the glasses to catch a bus.

Another person called about a dead rat in a public storage unit.

"Because the public storage employees were not responsive, they wanted an officer to come out and remove the dead rat so that they can enter the premises that they had," Arnold said.

Arnold stresses the calls to 911 should carry more urgency and severity. 

It can mean the difference between life and death," Arnold said. 

Atlanta E-911 receives about 1.2 million calls a year, which is the most out of any municipality in Georgia. Arnold said dispatchers have already taken 900,000 calls in 2022.

This isn't something limited to Atlanta. We've shared stories of similar cases of improper 911 calls out of both DeKalb and Douglas Counties. 

Some reasons for the calls there included a baby not going to sleep, a sunburn, and even an urinary tract infection

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