Fredericksburg Dispatch changes policy following ABC7 Investigation

Fredericksburg Dispatch changes policy following ABC 7 Investigation. (ABC7)

Fredericksburg Dispatch stands alone no more. After a series of 7 On Your Side I-Team investigations, Fredericksburg Dispatch has changed its 911 policy concerning "pocket dials" or "butt calls".

Before 7 On Your Side started investigating, calls labeled “butt dials” were just dismissed. Now, dispatchers will not only call the number back, they will also send an emergency crew - every time.

"Fredericksburg 911 where's your emergency. Hello?" That is the 911 call that changed Michael Paulus' life.

"Next month, we'll be sending my father's ashes into the Chesapeake Bay. That's the final goodbye," said a somber Paulus.

It's also a call that led to a 7 On Your Side Investigation and a change in policy at Fredericksburg City Dispatch.

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"I'm not going to answer that question,” replied Fredericksburg Police PIO Sarah Kirkpatrick, when asked if her department regrets how they got to this change.

Late in the evening on April 26, 56-year-old Robert Paulus, who had heart disease, called 911. When the dispatcher answered, she heard nothing on the other end, except a strange sound and labeled the call a "pocket call" or "butt dial". No callback was made. No help was sent. A few hours later, Paulus was found dead.

"My father died alone,” said Paulus. “He cried for help one last time and nobody came."

The I-Team learned Fredericksburg was the only dispatch center in the DC Metro area that doesn't call back or send a crew for silent calls. But no longer. After a month-long internal investigation by Fredericksburg Police, policy has changed.

Stated Kirkpatrick, "We took this incident very seriously and we did a thorough investigation and we did a thorough review of the policy. We want to make sure something like this doesn't happen in the future."

Now, if someone calls 911 and nothing is heard, the dispatcher will call back and leave a message. If the caller cannot be reached, an emergency crew will be sent - every time.

"It's unfortunate that my father had to go through this and pass away before it actually changed," concluded Paulus who believes the new policy would have saved his father’s life. "With my father dialing 911, if somebody had responded, I'm 100 certain I'd still have my dad today, or I'd at least be able to say goodbye."

This change in policy at Fredericksburg Dispatch is its first in seven years. So, in addition to this change, Fredericksburg will now review its 911 policy every year to make sure it stays current.

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