News flash for shoppers: Being stuck in Boxing Day traffic is not an emergency.
That's the message Burnaby RCMP had to give out Wednesday afternoon after an onslaught of 911 calls from frustrated motorists stuck in traffic on streets and parking lots, particularly at Metrotown.
Staff Sgt. Robert Marks said the calls - too many to count - started coming in around noon and continued into the evening.
"Obviously, people on Boxing Day are out returning things and doing their shopping. It's the traffic and people not being able to exit parking lots at the mall that's causing this. So it's kind of an unusual call to get as far as 911 calls are concerned."
The deluge of calls prompted Burnaby RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Crawford to send out a Twitter plea around 2 p.m. on the @BurnabyRCMP account urging people to stop dialling the emergency number for traffic problems.
"Shoppers stuck in heavy Boxing Day sales parking lot traffic, pls don't tie up 9-1-1 emergency lines to report it's taking too long," the message said.
Crawford said one caller Mounties spoke with claimed to have been stuck for more than an hour in a parking lot.
The calls were more than just a nuisance, Marks added.
"You can imagine that when you do receive those 911 calls, they tie up the lines and prevent people from what could be legitimate 911 calls," he said. "There's only a limited number of lines."
Marks wasn't sure how people thought police could free them from the Boxing Day gridlock.
"I don't know if they expected us to conduct traffic control or what their wishes were. Maybe they wanted help with exiting the parking lots, which technically is not our forte. Mall security should be dealing with these issues."
Unnecessary 911 calls are a fact of life for police, however.
"Unfortunately, 911 is a pretty easy number to remember," Marks said. "We consistently get a number of calls over the course of any given night, and generally it doesn't warrant a 911 call."
Aside from Wednesday's calls from desperate shoppers, Marks said the two most common sources of frivolous 911 calls over the holidays are pocket dials - "we get a lot of those" - and drunk people.
"We get some very intoxicated people phoning us up on a 911 call who just wanted to talk to us, over holiday time especially."
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