Belfast Telegraph

Police took 3 minutes to answer 999 call as it's revealed 40 people every day just hang up

By Adrian Rutherford

Police took more than three minutes to answer a 999 call in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

Shocking figures reveal more than 40 emergency calls to the PSNI are abandoned every day on average.

A total of 15,814 calls to 999 were ended before they were answered or were cut off in the 12 months to April 2016.

The PSNI was asked to provide details of the longest time it took to answer a 999 call. In 2015/16 this was three minutes 35 seconds - while in 2014/15 it was one minute 48 seconds.

Philip Smith, who sits on the Policing Board, said: "This is the first contact point that people have with police in an emergency, and if people cannot get through it causes a major issue. People cannot get help from the police if they can't get an answer."

Mr Smith, who is an Ulster Unionist candidate for Strangford, said he would raise the matter with the Policing Board.

He said the figures raised serious questions for the PSNI - but said more information was needed.

"It is one thing if calls to insurance companies or sales companies are abandoned, but if you have an emergency and people can't get through it is a serious issue," he said.

Across the UK, at least 250,000 calls to police forces were abandoned in the last four years.

The details were revealed after Freedom of Information requests by the Liberal Democrats.

The party surveyed police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Of those to respond, Suffolk Constabulary had the highest number of abandoned calls, with 38,219 last year. Next came the PSNI; followed by West Midlands, which had 13,616 and Thames Valley with 4,406.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "When someone calls 999 they want to talk to the police because it's an emergency. They don't want to be left on hold. It's unacceptable."

Referring to the three minute 35 second delay, the PSNI said "technological and process issues" occur in every complex communication system.

It said: "These extreme examples should be viewed in the context of the average answer time for a 999 call of seven seconds. It remains extremely unlikely that any person calling the police service to report an emergency will experience an excessive wait to have their call answered."

Chief Inspector Billy McIlwaine from the PSNI's call management centre said the PSNI received over 715,000 calls during 2016 via the 999 and 101 numbers, with an abandoned call rate at just over 2%.

"It is also important to point out that the vast majority of what are termed 'unanswered' calls are in fact abandoned calls which we receive on a daily basis," he said.

"Additionally, where a 999 call is abandoned, police will always call back or otherwise attempt to physically locate the caller.

"We take almost 2,000 calls for service from the public day in, day out and are dedicated to ensuring that you and your loved ones are safe; that is what we are here for and we are always here to help. Every time you dial 999, someone will always answer that call."

Chief Inspector McIlwaine said 999 calls are routed to ensure they are answered as quickly as possible.

"The average answer time for a 999 call is seven seconds, with over 94% being answered within 10 seconds," he added.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Nobody in need of urgent help should have their emergency calls unanswered.

"While answering 999 calls is an operational matter for the police, we have maintained protection for police spending so forces have the resources they need to carry out their important work."

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