When should you call 999?
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If you need help, a call to 999 can be a lifesaver. However, some people choose to abuse the service.
In the past six months, we have received calls from a man in Southend who was complaining about being asked to leave a pub, a girl who said she couldn’t find her way out of some stinging nettles, and a man who asked for a lift because he’d missed his bus.
We were also repeatedly called by the same man who kept asking for a pizza and hanging up. The only thing he got delivered to his door were two of our officers who had some stern words of advice.
The FCR operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has around 270 staff.
Over the August bank holiday weekend, the team took a total of 3,176 calls through the emergency 999 line, 1,885 calls through 101, and logged a total of 4,463 incidents. The average answer time for a 999 call was 5.7 seconds.
Chief Inspector Ian Gennery leads the FCR. He says that although the vast majority of the public only call 999 in an emergency, those that misuse the system should be aware there are other ways of contacting the police. He said:
“People need to ask themselves whether their situation is truly an emergency and whether a police response is needed as quickly as possible.
“Recently we had a situation on the M11 where someone was asking for a police escort because they were late home for dinner,” he added.
“Do we really need to be directing officers and resources away from a domestic incident or a serious collision to come and help you?
“If it doesn’t, there are a lot of other methods you can use, and there are lots of resources to look at on our website. You can use the 101 system to speak to someone over the phone, the live chat function on our website, or submit an online report.
“But if you do need police urgently, and you’re in trouble and need help, call 999.”
Chief Inspector Gennery says his team will never disconnect a call without offering advice, but that there are a worrying amount of calls that aren’t emergencies.
Lauren Simmons is a Communications Officer in the FCR. She has been answering 999 calls for three years.
She says that she enjoys helping people, and that her naturally calm nature and ability to handle conflict helps her deal with difficult calls.
“We talk to people who might be experiencing the worst day of their lives. I try to reassure them and let them know that help is coming, especially in emergencies that are ongoing.
“It can be distressing to listen to someone who is very upset and sometimes you can hear things you don’t want to hear, like people being attacked. Luckily calls this severe are few and far between but it can be gruelling.
“One call always sticks in my mind. I was being tutored and fairly new to the job when a woman disclosed a rape to me and described the things that had been done to her. I’ll never forget it. Sometimes you have to step out of the room and decompress for a few minutes.”
Unsurprisingly, Lauren gets frustrated when the system is abused.
“Timewasters have no regard for anyone else. I took a hoax call from teenagers in Pitsea who said that there were a group of individuals running round with weapons. We sent officers urgently to search the location because obviously we have to treat these calls as genuine, but it was such a waste of resources that could have been used to help people in urgent need.
“I also had someone call me because they couldn’t get their boyfriend home because he was too drunk. When I politely said that unfortunately this wasn’t something the police could help with, I was verbally abused.
“No matter what their reasoning may be, everyone knows that you don’t call 999 for a taxi or a pizza. It’s common sense.”
Misuse of the 999 service delays us helping those in urgent need.
You can also use the 'Live Chat' button on our website to speak with the same team who respond to emergency calls.
If you’re unsure if your report relates to a policing matter, you can visit the national Ask the Police website.