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Several Iowa Law Enforcement Agencies Experienced Hoax Emergency Phone Calls This Week

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Des Moines Police received a call around noon on Wednesday; a woman said she had been sexually assaulted and injured at Union Park.

"We were trying to get some information from her, she hung up on us," said Sgt. Paul Parizek, Public Information Officer for the Des Moines Police Department. "We were able to call her back. As we started sending police cars to that area, we probably exchanged maybe three or four phone calls with her. Each one disconnected and as the calls went on it became apparent that she had no real familiarity with where she was at. She couldn’t describe where she was at. She kept changing her location, and at about that time, we started to figure out that this didn’t seem legit, and she was just really kind of yanking our chain, whoever was making that phone call.”

But not before the caller wasted valuable time and resources.

“When you call in and you tell us something serious, such as a sexual assault has happened, you’re gonna get an immediate response, and you’re gonna get a lot of police officers responding to help," said Sgt. Parizek. "In this case, we sent at least three police officers to that area and we also tied up three dispatchers and this went on for over an hour."

Sgt. Parizek worries about the impact fake emergency calls like this could have on tying up manpower and resources.

“When we start talking about hoaxes, one of the greatest concerns that we have is we take over 400,000 phone calls a year in our dispatch center," said Sgt. Parizek. "You start sprinkling in some of them that are bogus and you’re gonna draw a lot of our resources away from people who definitely need our help and legitimately need our help and that’s a problem.”

At the same time, Sgt. Parizek says all calls are taken seriously.

"We treat every phone call like it’s the real deal and we treat it that way until we find out otherwise," said Sgt. Parizek. "So, we’re gonna continue to put our resources into this...It’s just an issue that’s going on in our society right now between these types of hoaxes and these swatting hoaxes that we’ve got to figure out a way as a culture to stop, because sooner or later somebody’s gonna actually need us and not get us or we’re gonna get somewhere and somebody’s gonna get hurt while we’re investigating these things, whether it’s a police officer or someone else."

Earlier this week, on Tuesday morning, the Mahaska County Sheriff's Office also received a hoax 911 call that was very similar in nature to the one Des Moines Police received on Wednesday.

A woman reported she had been sexually assaulted and stabbed on the recreational trail within Caldwell Park on Highway 92.

“She would talk to the dispatchers for a while and then it was almost as if she would stop talking," said Mahaska County Sheriff - Russell Van Renterghem. "They could hear some coughing in the background, which coughing’s not unusual if you’ve been stabbed. And then after a few minutes she would come back on the line, and they just continually tried to get more information from her, as far as her location and such and there came a point after, this went on for about 20-30 minutes, where you know, you start wondering if it’s not a some type of a hoax or a distraction. And it was about that time we received a teletype over the statewide computer, where other agencies were asking if any law enforcement had received this type or this nature of a call from this lady. And that’s when we started putting two and two together and discovered it was a hoax."

These phone calls remain under investigation.

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