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911 Calls From Manhattan No Longer Bouncing to New Jersey, NYPD Says

By Emily Frost | March 26, 2015 1:09pm
 Some 911 call from Verizon cellphones on Manhattan's West Side were bouncing to dispatchers in New Jersey, officials said.
Some 911 call from Verizon cellphones on Manhattan's West Side were bouncing to dispatchers in New Jersey, officials said.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost; Shutterstock (inset)

UPPER WEST SIDE — For years, people who have called 911 from their cellphone to report medical emergencies or violent crimes along the Hudson River have sporadically had their calls picked up by dispatchers in New Jersey — causing confusion and potentially life-threatening delays, officials said. 

But the NYPD, with the help of City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, has finally gotten to the bottom of the problem — working with Verizon to ensure that their cell towers automatically divert 911 calls placed in New York City to the proper dispatchers, police said.

The new system, which went into effect in early January, "appears that it’s working well," said 24th Precinct Commanding Officer Marlon Larin, who hasn't heard of any calls coming from Bergen County since the fix went into effect.

Under the new system, Verizon callers who dial 911 along Manhattan's West Side should no longer see their calls routed to a cellphone tower in Bergen County, N.J. and then sent to one of 24 emergency call centers there, as had been the case previously, according to officials from the wireless provider and police in New York and New Jersey.

Now, the calls do not go to New Jersey operators at all, but hit the New Jersey tower and re-route directly to New York City operators, according to Larin, Verizon officials and Rosenthal.

The problem had long affected Manhattan's west side, with an average of 20 calls a day bouncing to Bergen County 911 operators as recently as last fall, Bergen County police officials told DNAinfo.

"There were instances when I would hear the radio dispatcher telling our officers that a certain call was coming in from Bergen County," confusing NYPD officers, Larin explained.

The fact that the problem seemed to occur most often along the remote pathways along the Hudson River and the Henry Hudson Parkway made officers' jobs of sorting out the confusion even more difficult.

"It’s already a little cumbersome [for emergency responders] to get to the waterfront," Larin said.

The issue has existed since the beginning of cellphone service, said a source familiar with the 911 system, but only affected Verizon customers. It's a problem more frequent in large cities, where high-rises can block cellphone signals.

"The signal goes from your phone to the nearest cell site regardless of where that site is located, and doesn’t recognize borders," said Andrew Testa, a public relations manager for Verizon. 

Since taking office in January of last year, Rosenthal received a handful of calls from residents living on Riverside Drive complaining about 911 service.

Constituents were frustrated over the back-and-forth over their location, which wasted precious time, she said. 

During residents' calls, "the New Jersey operator was trying to figure out where they were calling from, and it wasn’t going anywhere," Rosenthal recounted. 

"[The residents] realized as they were talking to them that the New Jersey operator didn’t realize they were in New York," she added.

Rosenthal said she came face-to-face with the issue when she was biking along the Riverside Park greenway last May and came upon a woman who had suffered a seizure and was unconscious.

"The 911 call went to New Jersey and... the person on the receiving end of the call asked a lot of questions and finally mentioned that the ambulance was in New Jersey, at which point it seemed like 15 minutes before anyone got through to 911 in New York," she told Inspector Richard Napolitano at a May 30 Council hearing on the city's 911 system. 

"And then it took another 10 or 15 minutes until the ambulance arrived."

By the time doctors got to her, the limited window in which they could reverse the effects of the seizure had closed, Rosenthal added.

"Instead, this girl was in surgery for five hours... the call shouldn’t have gone to New Jersey," she told Napolitano, who committed at the time to looking into the issue. 

Both Rosenthal and Larin encouraged residents to contact them if they encounter any problems with 911 calls getting bounced to New Jersey. 

With additional reporting by Murray Weiss.