SIDNEY — From someone seeking the road conditions driving to Columbus or from a parent complaining their child won’t listen to them … dispatchers at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have heard them all.
In 2018, the Sheriff’s Office received 16,836 911 calls, Chief Deputy Jim Frye said. The call center is manned 24/7, 365 days a year by seven dispatchers.
They have heard it all, from pleas for help in emergency situations, to reports of unusual events in the area, or crashes, to requests for phone numbers of local businesses or for road conditions and even scam calls.
However, in the very early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 23, the call center received one of the most unusual calls to stand out in recent memory, Dispatcher Jeff Baumann said.
According to a report from the Sheriff’s Office, a person identifying himself as Simon Vanson called at 1:12 a.m. from overseas in Singapore to warn the Sheriff’s Office, along with over 400 other law enforcement agencies, about information he saw on two YouTube videos. Vanson, who claimed to be a disabled Navy veteran, said the “United States Military, law enforcement and civilian population are at risk,” the report said.
In the 911 call, Vanson kept telling a night shift dispatcher he “saw something very disturbing.” The title of the YouTube video, which has since been removed from YouTube, is called “Extermination of Humanity: Iraq War,” Vanson said. The second YouTube video Vanson reported seeing is called “95% Will Die.”
“The videos are very disturbing,” Vanson told the dispatcher. “I saw something. We are in trouble. We have a world problem on our hands. I have contacted over 400 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and military security forces. It’s critical that you get this information to a deputy.”
After the dispatcher calmly and seriously collected all of the information to pass along to the shift sergeant, Vanson pleaded for help before hanging up.
“I can’t spend the rest of my life on the phone. I need help to disseminate that information to law enforcement agencies. I’m trying to reach out to any law enforcement that I can,” Vanson said, then thanked the dispatcher and hung up.
Frye said they often get calls from mentally challenged individuals.
“A lot of times, the sheriff will get (these types of calls). This call particularly was a little odd where this guy is calling from overseas and he wants us to be on alert because bad things are going to happen,” Frye said. “And then you look at the YouTube video, and yeah the guy (in the video) is a radical, but I don’t see in the YouTube video where he threatens law enforcement at all. So I don’t know where (Vanson) is coming from.”
Baumann, who has been a dispatcher for about 24 years, said all information is taken seriously, even if he suspects it is nothing important. He said dispatchers collect the information and pass it along to the road sergeant or the most senior deputy on duty.
“You just have to go, ‘OK, this is probably not going to be something,’ but anymore, you have to take everything as that it could be potentially something,” Baumann said. “We take as much (information) as we can and as quickly as we can and with as much detail as we can.”
Frye said after the shift sergeant receives a report like Vanson’s, he passes the information along to a “state fusion center.” The fusion center, Frye said, monitors all radio traffic and chatter that goes back and forth on the internet for terrorism threats. The fusion center will look in to the report and make a determination about whether there is a viable threat or not. Vanson’s report was sent to the FBI Counterterrorism Watch Center.
Frye spoke about a man who monthly calls Sheriff John Lenhart claiming to have had a tracking device placed into one of his teeth by the FBI. He said the Sheriff’s Office’s office phones, cellphones and even 911-line often receives scam calls from random auto-dialed phones, Frye and Baumann said.
Baumann said scam calls are becoming more frequent and can tie the 911-line up from receiving emergency calls coming in. If those callers could be located, they could face charges, they said, but it is often very difficult to pinpoint the location of calls from the cellphone scam callers.
Frye said dispatchers at one time received over 150 calls from a mentally disabled female who had to be warned of possible charges that could be filed because she would call 911 for everything and anything that was not an emergency.
If a large number of calls come into the call center, the unanswered calls are rolled over to Sidney Police or other nearby 911-call centers, Baumann explained. Calls always are answered, he said.
Sometimes elderly people who live alone have often called 911 for help when there was not a true emergency because Baumann thinks they are basically looking for human interaction. People have called asking for the phone number to McDonald’s, to know road conditions between Sidney and Columbus, for example, Baumann said, or because their child wont come in from playing outside. Frye and Baumann discourage people from making these type of non-emergency calls.
“If you have a legitimate emergency, we are here to help, 24/7. If you have an emergency, please call us, but if you need a phone number to McDonald’s, look in the directory,” Frye said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.