Mobile phones blamed for big rise in 999 calls

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The Independent Online

Emergency 999 calls to the police have increased by a third this year and most of the additional calls are made by people using mobile phones.

Emergency 999 calls to the police have increased by a third this year and most of the additional calls are made by people using mobile phones.

The increase is largely due to people accidentally ringing 999, or several people simultaneously using their mobiles to report the same incident, according to the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, David Veness.

Scotland Yard said yesterday that during the past 15 years the rate of emergency calls had increased by about 6 per cent a year. But with the arrival of widespread mobile phone ownership the number of calls rocketed. This year the Met expects about three million calls, up from 2.3 million in 1999.

The problem, which senior officers are sure is reflected nationally, is putting huge pressure on the force's already understaffed emergency phone system. "We are not a commercial firm so we cannot put up a message on our phone lines saying all our operators are busy," Mr Veness said.

According to Scotland Yard, the number of calls made by people with mobile phones in their bags or pockets accidentally dialling 999 is expected to reach 250,000 in London this year. Call handlers for the Metropolitan Police had been receiving up to 1,000 such calls a day. But in August the Met arranged with BT for its emergency call operators to screen out some of these "silent" calls.

The Met's call handlers also face a constant stream of inappropriate 999 calls from people phoning to find out the time and what to do if they have missed their bus or lost their sunglasses.

Mr Veness said police forces in other parts of the country had recorded rises of at least 30 per cent. It was revealed earlier this year that one person eager to join the Kent police rang 999 to find out whether they had received his application form. He did not get the job.

A survey carried out by Kent police in mid-May showed that in just one week 582 of the 1,671 emergency calls made to its control room by mobile phones were either silent or accidental. Scores of other calls proved to be hoaxes, abandoned calls or children fooling around.

Chief Inspector Jan Stephens, of Kent police, said: "Where phones are being abused we initially send out a warning letter. If it happens again, the person will receive a visit from a police officer and if they still continue misusing the 999 system, the force will seek to have that phone cut off."

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said that although it did not have national statistics, it was aware of a significant increase in 999 calls.

All 999 calls should be answered in between six and 30 seconds. The Home Office claims that 80 per cent of calls meet the target. But the Police Federation claims the figures are being massaged.

The growing number of accidental or unnecessary calls has led many police forces across Britain to launch campaigns to raise awareness about the problem.

Officers have teamed up with fire and ambulance services to mount a public education campaign urging people to "think, think, think" before dialling 999.

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