“Open line” silent calls to 911 during urgent emergencies have long plagued dispatchers, reports the New York Times. To those on the receiving end of the line, the silence can signify a prank, a pocket-dial or, just as easily, something haunting. The paper cites an open-line call on Christmas Day 2011 to 911 in Grapevine, Texas, where a dispatcher heard only static, a few muffled comments and breathing. In fact, a gunman named Aziz Yazdanpanah was in the process of shooting six relatives.
Across the country, policies on open-line calls vary, depending on the size and resources of the city. Some require dispatchers to investigate every call, reaching out to cellphone service providers for more information if necessary. Faced with the uncertainty of an open line, dispatchers sometimes send officers into comically innocuous settings, some of which make the local newspapers. In 2008, when a dispatcher in Shrewsbury, Mass., heard a child screaming in the background, the responding officer reported that an “8-year-old child was given a timeout and called 911.” And last winter, a dispatcher in Glenburn, Me., sent a deputy to an empty house, where a pug named Lucy was found chewing on the phone that had dialed 911.