Some police departments have pushed back on the pizza tactic, saying they may not identify a food order as a cry for help from someone worried about alerting others. News reports have debunked myths — circulated on social media — that dispatchers are commonly trained to see hidden meaning in a request for pepperoni pizza and then launch into a script of yes-or-no questions.
Teneyck says he was never taught to treat a pizza call with suspicion; he’s fielded actual wrong-number attempts to order the dish and estimates that about half the calls he handles are mistakes. But he was taught to listen to each call carefully.
“If it’s your only option, and that abusive person is next to you and listening to everything you say, then by all means — you call and order that pizza,” he told The Washington Post.
Domestic violence prevention groups have promoted the pizza strategy. A PSA aired during the 2015 Super Bowl showed a woman using the same tactic with the tagline, “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”
At times, authorities have cautioned against treating “pizza” as a sort of code word.
“This is false. Text to 911 is a much better option,” the Los Angeles Police Department tweeted in response to one post that gained traction last year promoting “pepperoni pizza” as a magic word. “Your exact location & the nature of your emergency is what’s needed to send the right resources.”
The 911 line in Oregon, Ohio, cannot receive texts, though, according to Teneyck. He says anyone worried about being overheard should do whatever they can to keep an open line with emergency responders, so that police can hear what’s going on.
Audio released to local news organizations shows Teneyck caught on quickly to the daughter’s real reason for calling.
“I’m getting you now,” he said about 20 seconds in, after she told him, “You’re not understanding.”
Police arrested Simon Lopez, 56, who was jailed on a charge of domestic violence, according to court records. The public defender’s office, which is representing Lopez, did not respond to a request for comment, and The Post was unable to reach Lopez.
The alleged victim told police that Lopez came home intoxicated and started arguing with her, then punched her on the arm with a closed fist and shoved her so that she fell into a wall, the Toledo Blade reported.
Lopez was “disorderly, loud, verbally and physically abusive,” she reportedly told police, adding that he said he would beat her. Lopez denied her allegations, according to police records reviewed by the Blade.
Teneyck said he was doing what’s routine to dispatchers: taking every call seriously and following up even on wrong dials. But he worries others might have ended the conversation too soon.
“I do believe that in other cases, it’s a very real possibility that another dispatcher in a larger jurisdiction could have handled it differently and lost the call,” he said.
Oregon Police Chief Michael Navarre told the Blade that he is “extremely proud” of Teneyck’s work — and plans to use the pizza call in training.
“He picked up on a woman who was in distress but was in a position where she couldn’t convey it to him in those words,” Navarre said.