The woman accused of making fake emergency calls in Richland and Lexington counties had been charged previously with similar crimes, according to records.
Jheri L. Polite, 32, was charged in DeKalb County, Ga., as far back as 2004 for false reporting and harassing phone calls, according to Columbia police. On Wednesday, Polite was arrested on 31 counts of unlawful use of 911 for what authorities say is making repeated emergency calls to law enforcement in both locations.
Investigators still don’t know for sure why Polite made the calls, said deputy police chief Melron Kelly. Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said Polite might be a thrill-seeker.
“My thinking is she got some kind of surge in seeing blue lights come,” Koon said.
The fake calls were to report shootings, burglaries and even suicides, Kelly said. Those kinds of calls tend to happen during the summer and Christmas break, when kids are out of school. But fake calls had never come from an adult, Columbia’s deputy chief said.
“This is the first time, in my memory, that we’ve had to deal with this with an adult,” Kelly said.
It was difficult tracking down Polite because the phone she is accused of using to place the calls was not an active phone, but it could still dial emergency numbers, authorities said.
Though both agencies were using technology in an attempt to track the caller, it was “good detective work” that led Columbia officers to Polite’s door, Kelly said.
“These officers did it really old school,” he said. “They went and knocked on some doors.”
When Polite answered the door at her home on Bentley Drive off Broad River Road, “she said something to the effect of ‘it wasn’t me,’ ” Kelly said. Polite had “some general knowledge of what was going on,” he said.
Both agencies are still crunching the manpower, gas and time spent on responding to dozens of calls. Kelly said Columbia police plan to continue questioning Polite. Officers want to explore with the solicitor’s office whether to divert her case to mental health court. Kelly said placing fake emergency calls is “just not normal.”
Columbia officers took all calls seriously, Kelly said. But the situation was concerning.
Diverting officers to other regions left other parts of town with fewer officers than required, he said. Though officers responded with the same intensity to every call as they did others, over time, fewer cars were sent if they were being dispatched to the same general area where the fake calls were coming from, Kelly said.
As of late Thursday, Polite was still being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County.
“We’re glad an arrest has been made in this case,” Koon said. “We’re fortunate they all turned out to be false alarms, but we still tied up resources responding to the calls.”
Staff writer Jane Moon Dail contributed.