Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: 999 number misuse happening too much

Editor's Viewpoint

The sheer volume of emergency calls to the PSNI is staggering. In the calendar year 2017 an average of 480 999 calls were received by police each day, and each had to be evaluated.

That is an onerous task and it is made all the more difficult by the number of what the public might regard as nuisance or hoax calls received.

As highlighted today, an astonishing 1,448 calls were made from just 10 addresses in the province, resulting in police having to visit those properties on 684 occasions, making 30 arrests.

Not all those calls were malicious or mischievous, and police had no way of knowing until they attended the addresses if there was a real emergency or a threat to life.

But it is clear that people do misuse the 999 number.

Most of us realise that it should only be contacted if there is a crime being committed at that moment, if there is a threat to life or damage to property, a suspect is in the area, or if an accident of some kind has occurred.

The PSNI is not unique in having to field 999 calls which are not emergencies, and puts considerable efforts into educating the public on when to use the number or the alternative non-emergency 101 contact. Given the volume of calls police received - the majority of them for real emergencies - it is important that operators and lines are not tied up unnecessarily.

While the cost of dealing with non-emergency calls is unknown, it is clear that it is considerable.

This is money which an under-pressure police service can ill-afford to waste.

Indeed, there are other areas of public life where it could be spent, for example the health service.

Police point out that some of those who persistently call the 999 number are suffering from mental health problems and report crimes which have never happened. This must create great difficulties for those taking the calls in determining if an emergency exists or not.

It also leaves police with the problem of what to do about the persistent caller. While they can be referred to health professionals, that does not mean they will not be able to make further calls in future.

The real cost to the service is the potential delay in responding to genuine emergencies. While it is easy to identify the problem, finding a solution is something that continues to puzzle emergency services.

Ultimately, they have to rely on the common sense of the public.

Belfast Telegraph

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