Moran: Utah Should Not Force People to Call 911

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"H.B. 104 seeks to unnecessarily enshrine common human decency into law and may cause more issues than it could solve." (Chronicle archives)

By Serena Moran

 

Utah State Representative Brian King has proposed H.B. 104, 911 Responsibilities in an Emergency, which seeks to make it a Class B misdemeanor if someone fails to contact emergency services in the event of an emergency or crime. It is common courtesy to help a fellow Utahn, but one should not be punished by failing to do so. Enforcement of such a requirement could lead to skyrocketing rates of unnecessary 911 calls due to the fear of criminal liability. In some respects, it may be helpful, but there are important logistical concerns that the legislature needs to take into consideration: people classify emergencies differently, and emergencies are often highly stressful, which can impact how someone reacts. This may cause people to panic and handle the situation poorly, including forgetting to call 911. The Utah State Legislature should not pass H.B. 104.

H.B. 104 is more an issue of common courtesy, but it should not be a forced requirement. On top of that, H.B. 104 is an unnecessary add-on to a law that is already effective and well in place. Utah’s Good Samaritan Law already addresses many of the things H.B. 104 seeks to impact, like ethical liability. It presumes in good faith that citizens are willing to help each other in times of emergency. It is meant to encourage civilians to help authorities collect information about crimes or emergencies and help the caller reduce the feeling of guilt or regret caused by their actions or decisions cause. But it does not force people into calling the authorities in every emergency.

If anything, the Utah State Legislature should work to increase public understanding about situations that require help from authorities. Everyone begins to learn basic skills for emergency situations in grade school such as “stop, drop and roll.” When dialing 911, people should be aware of what issues truly need the attention of authorities. For example, some main emergencies would include fires, medical emergencies and possible crimes or car crashes.

Utah has already had issues with the misuse of calling for emergencies in the past. The Salt Lake City police and fire departments would never turn down a call for help; however, it was recorded that over 20% of calls received were non-emergencies. People generally know when to call 911, but some are more uncertain about when it is unnecessary. This has been an ongoing issue many have been trying to resolve and King’s proposal would undermine that work substantially. If the Utah government attempted to enforce this bill, calls made for 911 could increase immensely. H.B. 104 could make people worried about not calling for help — simply out of the fear of getting in trouble — resulting in flooding authorities and creating unnecessary check-ins with emergency services. This would not only waste the time of the callers, dispatchers and officers, but it may also create a longer wait for those who are in an actual emergency since calls are taken in the order received. The official 911 government website has an FAQ of reasons to call and when not to call 911. Enforcing this bill would actively go against what the website states and recommends. With basic human decency, active education campaigns on handling emergencies and Utah’s Good Samaritan Law already in effect, this bill would not resolve many issues.

H.B. 104 could cause other problems, too. Plenty of the public may not know about this new law if it is passed, which could waste law enforcement’s time if they are punishing people who are unaware of the expectation. It might also be difficult to enforce and there are plenty of reasons why a person may not want someone else to call the authorities. A bystander may have to decide between respecting the wishes of a victim or following the law.

Utah does not need King’s H.B. 104 and the government does not need to force citizens to call 911 in an emergency. H.B. 104 seeks to unnecessarily enshrine common human decency into law and may cause more issues than it could solve. Instead, communities would be better served if government offered information to the public about how they can contact help, especially when they are uncertain about how they should handle a situation.

 

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@TheChrony