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Police time wasted by lack of knowledge of non-emergency numbers.

Ntl:Telewest Business : 12 April, 2007  (Technical Article)
Survey reveals a low level of awareness of what constitutes an police emergency and what number to call in non-emergencies.
Research unveiled by ntl:Telewest Business reveals the reasons behind thousands of wasted police man-hours. More than half of UK adults do not know their local non-emergency number and there is vast public confusion over the exact nature of a police emergency. Every year UK emergency services are bombarded with 999 calls, but police forces have acknowledged that up to four in five of these are of a non-emergency nature.

However the research has also found that one in five UK police forces still do not have a dedicated number adding to the confusion associated with 999 call outs.

The survey results imply that the current 999 situation has its roots in the disparity between what police consider to be an emergency and what the public considers to be an emergency. In the study Britons were given 10 situations and asked which they considered to be a real 999 emergency. These situations ranged from noisy neighbours to an elderly person being mugged. Six per cent of respondents failed to recognise that the latter was a genuine 999 emergency. The other eight situations were of a non-emergency nature and the answers to these are very revealing.

According to the study:

- 68 per cent of respondents stated that drug related anti-social behaviour would prompt them to dial 999 even though police recommend that in these situations citizens call a non-emergency number

- One in four Britons consider vandalism, graffiti and other deliberate damage to be cause for an emergency call out

- 69 per cent of Scottish respondents correctly recognised that drunken behaviour was not an emergency compared to the UK average of 56 per cent

- One in five were misinformed and would dial 999 if their car stereo had been stolen

- Nearly one in 10 citizens did not realise that local non-emergency numbers existed

- Three per cent claim to know a UK wide non-emergency number that does not exist

Christopher Small, Director of Public Sector at ntl:Telewest Business, said: "These results should prove an eye opener for police forces across the country. With so many man-hours at stake and pressure to increase efficiency from central government it is vital that the public is educated as to the nature of a non-emergency. It is also vitally important they are made aware of their local non-emergency number."

According to ntl:Telewest Business the research highlights a definite need for the police to educate the public about non-emergency numbers. To handle these calls efficiently, the non-emergency infrastructure has to be supported by the latest available technology. ntl:Telewest Business works with 80 per cent of emergency services in the UK, supporting their efforts to provide robust services to local residents.

"Four in five UK police forces are equipped with a single non-emergency number. However managing those calls effectively is critical to the success of such a programme. Call centres need to be prepared for unexpected influxes and the bandwidth has to be flexible. Therefore a next generation communications infrastructure has to be in place," Small concluded.

YouGov carried out the research in March 2007 on behalf of ntl:Telewest Business.
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