03/14/2012 02:20 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

YouTube video targets non-emergency 911 calls

A clever Toronto police YouTube video that stars a toy telephone and a plush monkey is being used to teach kids about the right and wrong times to call 911.

The video uses audio from a real 911 call placed by a five-year-old boy who was apparently curious to see who might answer the phone.

The dispatcher who receives the call is represented in the video by a stuffed monkey wearing a Toronto police T-shirt. She soon discerns the caller is a curious child.

“Does someone need help today or were you just testing it out?” the dispatcher asks in a gentle tone.

“Just testing,” responds the boy, who is represented in the video by a toy telephone. He then hangs up.

The dispatcher calls back, speaks to the boy’s mother and confirms there is no emergency.

The video is amusing and cute but Toronto Police Const. Wendy Drummond said it’s aimed at teaching kids about the right and wrong times to call 911.

“We didn’t want to scare the children,” said Drummond in an interview Wednesday with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “We didn’t want them to feel that they did something wrong because 911 is a life-saving lifeline and we want them to be able to call, but we also want them to know when to call and why to call. So just making a call to see who’s on the other line, to feed that curiosity, is not what we want. That’s where the parents come in.”

False 911 calls are no joke

Before becoming a uniformed officer, Drummond worked as a 911 dispatcher.

“I know both sides of it,” she told Galloway. “I know that lots of children play with the phones. Kids during March break play with the phones at the mall, they hang up. They think it’s funny, but in fact it’s not.”

Drummond said about 18 per cent of calls made to 911 are misdials and pocket calls.

Last year a 16-year-old boy was charged with seven counts of public mischief for making false 911 calls, Drummond said. His calls sent police cars, fire trucks and ambulances all over the city. Such calls tie up emergency crews who could be responding to real emergencies, Drummond said.

“Being a former call taker, I know what calls are on the line, what real emergencies are waiting,” she said.

Drummond said police made a deliberate decision to not use police officers in the video. The aim was not to scare children, but to teach them about the right times to call 911.

“We’ve had lots of calls from kids who perform life-saving acts by calling 911 when there’s a legitimate emergency,” she said. “But we need to let them know it’s a serious number and is not to be played with.”

Drummond encouraged parents to speak with their children about the right and wrong times to call 911.

“You might need them to call for you when you’re unable to,” she said. “So it’s a very important lesson to learn.”