Non-emergency number to handle drug dealing

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The Independent Online

Drug dealing will be among the crimes handled by the new single non-emergency number, it was disclosed today.

The 101 number, designed to take pressure off the 999 system, will also cover intimidation and harassment, vandalism, graffiti and other criminal damage, the Home Office said.

People concerned about "drug-related anti-social behaviour" will be told to dial 101 the announcement said, but an internal Home Office website said this would include drug dealers.

Each call will cost 10p in a bid to deter time-wasters.

Five areas - Hampshire, Northumbria, Cardiff, Sheffield and two areas in Leicestershire, Leicester City and Rutland County - will pilot the scheme this summer and it will be rolled out across England and Wales by 2008.

Local councils and police forces will work together to handle calls to the new service.

Police Minister Hazel Blears said: "In 2004 there were around 10 million calls to the 999 emergency service, around 70% of which were not emergencies.

"The single non-emergency service will operate around the clock and put callers directly in touch with specially-trained operators for information and advice on non-emergency matters.

"This will mean that 999 services can function more effectively and provide a faster response to emergency incidents."

101 operators will be able to transfer calls to 999 if the incident needs an emergency response.

The Home Office said the service would also deal with noisy neighbours, abandoned vehicles, rubbish and fly-tipping, people being drunk or rowdy in public places, and street lighting.

The non-emergency number was first mooted by the Home Office in 2001 and former Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the decision to go ahead in September 2004.

Mike Goodwin, of the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "Misuse of the current 999 service can seriously detract police resources away from genuine emergencies such as when there is a crime in progress or a life in danger.

"We hope that this facility will not only improve access to non-emergency police and local authority services but will also greatly reduce misuse of 999 by callers."