In a drive to reduce improper use of the 999 number over the Christmas period, the Metropolitan Police Service has released 12 examples of inappropriate calls to 999 that could have prevented others from getting through to police.
The Christmas and New Year period traditionally sees the 999 emergency number at its busiest. This, coupled with a significant increase in call volumes over the past year, has prompted the Met to urge the public to ensure people understand how to get in touch with police without putting unnecessary strain on the 999 system.
The 999 emergency number should only be used to contact police for situations where someone is in danger or when a crime is actually taking place. Over the last year 999 calls have increased by 11.2 per cent which equates to an additional 216,000 calls.
This increase follows three years of reducing numbers of 999 calls made to police. Handling this significant increase in calls has put officers and staff under real pressure; both those in control rooms answering the calls and those on the streets of London responding to them.
Officers are calling on the public to make sure they only use the 999 number for genuine emergencies and to use the 101 number, or online services to contact police if it isn’t an emergency situation.
The campaign, which was launched online on Monday, 19 December, will include social media sound clips of emergency situations, where the terrified victim is unable to get through to police on 999 because the line is taken up by a non-emergency call. The inappropriate calls featured in the clips are all based on real-life examples of calls received by 999 operators in 2016.
Chief Superintendent Pippa Mills, who leads the Met’s Command and Control Unit (MetCC), said: “Although the majority of people who require police assistance use the numbers correctly, there are still too many calls to emergency lines where the 999 number is being used as an information service. In many cases a simple internet search would provide the answer to the question posed by the caller.
“This campaign provides a small sample of the inappropriate calls received by our operators this year and callers who do not have an emergency may prevent others who are in danger from getting through to us. This presents a real risk to our ability to respond to genuine emergency calls.
“We also appreciate that every crime feels like an emergency to the victim, but the 999 number really must be reserved for situations where a crime is actually in progress or someone is in danger. Calling us on 101 does not change the police response you would get in a non-emergency situation and using the right number could literally save someone's life.”
The increase in demand on the 999 service over the past 12 months is thought to be, in part, due to factors such as an increasing population and the reduction of some out-of-hours services by other service providers. Further work and analysis has been commissioned to help officers fully understand what is driving the increase.
This increase in demand has impacted upon service levels with 75 per cent of 999 calls answered within 10 seconds. Although service levels are lower this year than in previous years, call handlers are still answering 999 calls, on average, in 11 seconds. And despite the pressure of an additional 216,000 calls to 999 service this year, MetCC remains one of the best-performing police call centres in the country.
Other ways to contact police:
There are a number of different ways to contact police in a non-emergency situation. The 101 non-emergency number can be used to:
- report a crime that has already happened and the suspects have left the scene;
- speak to a police officer about an ongoing case;
- make officers aware of any policing issue in your local area.
There is ongoing work to expand the Met’s online services in the New Year and enable more crime types to be reported online. A new trial ‘beta’ website is currently available at https://beta.met.police.uk and has answers to the most common questions asked by the public, as well as offering a range of additional online services including the ability to report road traffic incidents which have occurred in London.
The online reporting service will not replace either the 101 or the 999 emergency number, but it will provide an additional option for the public to report crime.
Extracts from 12 of the calls to 999 that did not require any police response this year:
- “I am [at] Heathrow and I have left one of my bags in a taxi? “
- “I have seen a fox walking outside the window and I wanted to report it in case it’s dangerous.”
- “Basically, I’m in N8 and I’m trying to get home to Finsbury Park and I don’t have any money on me for a taxi - I want police to come and pick me up and take me home……”
- “My mum put a deposit down on a fridge freezer and they haven’t delivered it - they keep changing the delivery date…”
- “I’m lost and I’m looking for a building that I can’t find, can you tell me where it is?”
- “I sent back my headphones because they are faulty and the manufacturer said they haven’t received them….”
- “There was a bird in the store but its ok, someone has removed it now…”
- “I want to report that I have lost my driving license…”
- “I have a dispute, I took my dog to be groomed and they shaved him instead of trimming him.”
- “There is a cat following me down the road and it keeps hissing…”
- “What time do the betting shops close in N18?”
- “Can you give me the number for the non-emergency police?”.