Wednesday, June 4, 2014 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD–About a dozen senior citizens gathered inside of the Village’s counsel chambers today to receive free emergency-only cell phones. The Maywood Police Department teamed up with Maywood’s senior citizen coordinator Larry Shapiro to administer the phones, which are donated by Secure the Call, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity.
According to its website, the charity “provides free 911 emergency-only cell phones to Senor Citizen Centers, Domestic Violence Shelters and Police and Sheriff Departments which in turn are given back to the community and used to contact the Police in case of an emergency.”
In addition to donating used cell phones to those who need them, the charity also has another goal–to “keep as many old cell phones out of the landfills of America” as it can.
“We want to make sure that you can call 911 in case of an emergency,” said Officer Pirsia Allen, the Maywood Police Department’s community relations officer.
Officer Allen said that the cell phone program has been in place for a while, but in recent years there has not been much demand for it. That’s changed this year.
“We had the program about three years ago, but residents stopped asking for the phones,” he said. “Now, they’re asking for them again.”
Larry Shapiro said that the program has also been enacted at the county level. He said that partnering with the police department has been a success.
“Working with the police has been incredible. We’re looking to work with them in the future,” he said.
Charlotte Powell, a supervisor of communications in the Village’s emergency dispatch center, directed the seniors in the best way to place an emergency call.
“First, we need to know your address,” she said. “Then, we’ll ask what your emergency is; whether or not its medical-related. If it’s a medical emergency, we’ll transfer you to an ambulance. The first call is the most important. You’ve got to talk clearly, so we can get to you. The bottom-line is that we want to get somebody to you.”
Powell said that the phones will direct emergency calls to the nearest dispatch, depending on where the seniors are located at the time they place the call.
Maywood Police Commander Sonja Horn said that if the seniors place emergency calls with the phones while driving on the highway, they’ll be directed to the State Police. Commander Horn said that seniors should be mindful of any external markers that may allow first responders to get to them as quickly as possible.
“It’s important to know the exit signs, so they can locate you,” she said. “If you don’t know exit signs, there are usually mile markers on the side of the road that will give dispatch a clue. It’s important to notice those things.”
Commander Horn also addressed several complications associated with the emergency phones. One of the reasons she stressed how important it is for seniors to know their physical location is because the emergency phones currently don’t have the capacity to track people who’ve put in a call.
“I know as an individual with an illness, sometimes you can’t get to the phone, or can’t talk because maybe your speech is slurred,” she said. “So, it’s important for us to be able to track where you are without you necessarily telling us.”
She said that the Village will be focused on solving the tracking problem, which her department just recently noticed.
Horn also addressed what may be an ironic benefit to some residents resulting from the tracking problem. She said that the department has gotten many complaints from residents who believe that the police are giving out the personal information of people who call to complain about drug and crime activity. If seniors call to report suspicious activity on the emergency phones, they won’t have to worry about this perceived problem. However, Horn insisted that the problem is only perceived and not real.
“We don’t give out people’s information,” she said. “When you place a call, the dispatcher needs to know your information for several reasons. If you just want to notify the police that something is going on without giving your information, that’s fine; just tell the dispatcher. But it’s not true that we give your information to criminals or anybody else. We don’t do that.”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” said Officer Allen, reinforcing Commander Horn’s point. “We’re here to protect you.” VFP
Left to right: Seniors line up to receive free phones; the phones laid out on table (Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).