The number of unnecessary 999 calls has taken its traditional upturn at this time of year and control room operators are appealing to the public to help cut the number of calls that are made.
Many of the calls are being made from phone kiosks by children messing about in the school holidays; others are from home landlines where children have been playing with the phone, and some are from toddlers inadvertently pressing the 9 button on a parent’s mobile phone.
Police say these type of calls run into many thousands in the course of a year and calls are up substantially in the last few days.
The Bedfordshire Police control room will always call back the number where a 999 call has been made in case someone is in distress – and if they can’t get an answer will usually send an officer round to the address to check if there is a genuine need for police assistance.
They say while the emergency call takers and officers are busy responding to fake or accidental emergency calls, they can’t deal with genuine emergencies that might need a fast response – putting lives in danger.
On Wednesday, July 30 two boys were arrested in the county after a hoax 999 call reporting a man shot in the chest. This apparently life-threatening incident meant the police response included armed officers, the helicopter on standby and an ambulance crew attending the scene of the supposed offence.
The number of calls to the police always goes up in hot weather – partly because of school holidays and bored children misusing the 999 system. Police also say that with doors and windows wide open for air and people out and about more, it increases the chance that residents will find each other’s activities more annoying and contact the police unnecessarily.
Caroline Baldwin, one of the call centre managers, said: “Some callers do genuinely need an emergency police response and have correctly used the 999 system.
“We don’t want anyone to hesitate about using the emergency number if they think life or property is in immediate danger or a crime is in progress.
“But probably only about 25% of our calls on 999 are actually a genuine police emergency. Some callers do need us – but should be using the non-emergency number 101 for matters which require advice, enquiries, updates or to report minor crimes where the offender has long since left the scene.
“The rest are a mixture of hoaxes, accidental calls from children or unlocked mobiles; plus those callers who need help but should be contacting another service such as the local council or health service.”
She added: “999 is also not the helpline to use if a dog has run off with your cricket ball, your washing machine has flooded the kitchen or your neighbour’s cooking is smelly! All we are asking people to do is think before they call and ask themselves ‘is my crisis an emergency?”
Please help police put genuine emergencies first by doing the following:
• Lock the keypad on your mobile phone so you – or your children can’t make
accidental 999 calls.
• Teach your children about the dangers of abusing the 999 system. The police WILL prosecute persistent offenders.
• Think whether your problem is genuinely an emergency before using 999. Could you wait five minutes and use 101 instead?
• Could another service or organisation help you more efficiently? Noise complaints are dealt with by your local borough council and all have an out of hours service to deal with noisy parties etc.