There can be a gray area about when to call. But most 911 agencies will tell you that if you have any doubts, you should call. Let them figure out if it is an emergency and if it is who should respond. If it isn’t, they will not send the police and put you away. That’s not what 911 is about.
SNOPAC 911’s web site defines an emergency as “… any situation that requires immediate assistance from the Police/Sheriff, and/or Fire/EMS.” It also says that “If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 9-1-1. It's better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.”
Situations that are inappropriate to call 911 include:
- For general information
- For directory assistance
- When you’re bored and just want to talk
- To pay a traffic ticket
- For power and other utility outages. The exception is if a power line is down and is danger from live wires. Also, if you smell gas, call 911. If your lights go out call your local power providers such as the PUD (customer service is (425) 783-1000). An amazing number of people call 911 when the electricity goes out. This does tie up the 911 lines during storms.
- As a prank.
Sometimes the press publishes stories about 911 abuse, such as this Post Falls, Idaho story about a man who called 911 a dozen times to complain about being overcharged at a bar (http://www.komonews.com/news/offbeat/Police-Man-calls-911-a-dozen-times-to-complain-about-bar-bill-298158661.html). An incident like this might earn you a visit from police.
But, most of us are not going to abuse 911 like this.
In Snohomish County, you can call 911 to report suspicious activity. Many burglars and thieves have been caught because a citizen called 911 when they saw someone suspicious. Many people have had their lives saved when someone, even a stranger, called for a welfare check when things did not seem medically right with an individual.