Tuesday, March 2, 2010

‘911: What is your credit card number?’

The trend of cities and states finding unique ways to dig deeper into its residents’ wallets has hit an all-time low in Loma Linda, CA.

Now when you call 911 for medical assistance in Loma Linda, you could be saddled with a $300 charge. That is, unless you pay the $48 annual fee to use the service. You can read more about that here.

Paying for emergency services really isn’t a new thing. Countless fire departments have charged for services outside incorporated areas forever. That’s one of the reasons volunteer departments gained such popularity – that and the hope for quicker response times.

Of course, you’re going to pay for ambulance rides and the care provided during transport. That’s something else society has come to accept. So if Loma Linda has a shortfall in that area, that’s where it should be addressed.

But paying $300 for a (literally) call for help? What are they smoking?

Back in the day before 911 and enhanced 911, you had a regular “emergency” number to call for help. The state and federal governments saw the need for 911 service and provided grants and all kinds of assistance to municipalities to make that happen.

Heck, the federal government still has grants for cities, counties and even states to upgrade emergency communications equipment. It’s not like that funding has dried up.

So a system that was built and funded by local, state and federal tax money is now going to cost someone in a potential life crisis $300 to use. What happens if they call the non-emergency number? Is that free?

The problem is, and we all know it, other cities will snap up the idea and maybe even apply it to all 911 calls. The fallout from that is easy to see.

Take for example, you’re sitting at home and hear gunshots on your normally very quiet street, followed by screams. You know someone needs help for crying out loud; they are screaming for help and you can hear it.

Do you pay $300 and help out a neighbor in need?

What about the potentially drunk driver you just saw run two cars off the road? Do you call 911 and report it?

The cost of being a Good Samaritan is now $300 – if you’re not an annual member to the club.

What about families who can’t afford the $48 for annual membership? They gamble that they won’t have a life crisis where grandma has a heart attack at their house.

There are cities needing to address frivolous 911 calls. That solution is simple: Charge the offenders. Make them pay and charge them criminally.

But making a buck off a taxpayer-funded system by charging those in dire need is simply asinine.