Belfast Telegraph

Stiffer sentences demanded as hoax 999 calls on the rise

‘Distraction’: Mervyn Storey
‘Distraction’: Mervyn Storey
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Tougher sentences are needed for people who waste police time by making hoax calls, it has been warned.

It comes after it emerged that over seven hours every day are lost by the PSNI in dealing with them.

Policing Board member Mervyn Storey said he fears it is only a matter of time before there is a fatality while officers are diverted to dealing with a false alarm.

Figures show there has been a 14% rise in the number of hoax calls over the last two years, at a time when the PSNI is struggling to meet demand.

Across the 2018/19 financial year, the PSNI received 3,599 hoax calls - an increase of 5% from 2017/18, which in turn had seen a rise of 8% from 2016/17.

Chief Inspector Gerard Pollock of the PSNI's Contact Management Branch said the equivalent of seven hours a day is spent responding to hoax calls.

"It is roughly 10 hoax calls a day that we are responding to," he said.

"Time spent on the calls results in the public having to wait longer for assistance.

"Whenever a person makes a hoax call on 999 then a genuine caller in need of assistance can't get through.

"A further impact is in communities where officers are then responding to and dealing with these hoax calls to confirm that someone is not in distress or in need of our assistance. That time can't be spent patrolling communities and responding to real emergencies."

Over the last four years police submitted 117 reports to the Public Prosecution Service over hoax calls, including those to other emergency services.

It has led to calls for action to tackle the problem.

Mr Storey, a DUP MLA, said: "Police are expected to produce a first-class service and are scrutinised beyond imagination, but they are subject to disgraceful behaviour like this.

"They are not in a position where they're allowed to make a judgment call, they must respond.

"What this shows is that the 101 service is simply not fit for purpose. There is an issue in using the service and how the public engage with police. When people ring, they need to be able to speak to an officer who can make a judgment call on the urgency of the situation.

"Better technical resources need to be put in place where possible and this is a real distraction which will, sadly, eventually lead to a fatality when police resources are diverted to a hoax."

Mr Storey said stiffer sentences for offenders were one option.

He added: "We need to send out a message that it's not okay to put other people's lives at risk in this way. When the Policing Board meets in August I have no doubt this issue will be raised and we will be asking the Chief Constable for his response."

Mark Lindsay, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said the rising number of hoax calls was increasing pressure on officers.

"Ultimately this means a poorer response rate," he said.

"Sometimes there are more sinister reasons behind these calls, though I have no doubt that some people think it's a great laugh to send police or other emergency services on wild goose chases.

"They have to be made to realise the consequences of their irresponsible actions.

"Minutes can make the difference in critical situations and if officers are left chasing down false reports the people behind these hoax calls are denying somebody in genuine need the urgent assistance of the police.

"The federation is also of the view that tougher sentences imposed by courts would help stamp out what is a growing and worrying trend."

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