29 May 2015

'This isn't an emergency, but...'

9:20 am on 29 May 2015

A rise in the number of people calling 111 has prompted police to consider establishing another phone line for non-emergency calls.

A police cordon.

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Police said they were getting increasingly frustrated at the number of people who call the emergency line with no actual emergency to report.

Among the more unusual calls the 111 line has received are questions about how to get rid of unwanted rodents, what time it is, and even a request to help cook a roast dinner.

Other examples include asking whether police know what time the local dairy closes.

Last year, police communication centres across the country received a total of 1.5 million calls, of which 771,000 were 111 calls.

But only a quarter (about 188,000) of those calls required a priority one dispatch, meaning a response unit needed to be sent immediately.

Top odd 111 calls

  • I need police here quick because there's a rat in my kitchen.
  • I need to know what time the dairy closes. Do you know their number?
  • A bird flew into my window and it's dead. What do I do with a dead bird?
  • It's Christmas, my family are going to be here in two hours, how do I cook a chicken for them?

Superintendent Dave Trappitt is the national manager of the police communication centres.

He said non-emergency calls unnecessarily clog up the 111 line.

"These calls take up valuable time and may cause a delay for someone in a life-threatening situation," he said. "It is a serious issue and we would like the public to play their part by using 111 for genuine emergencies."

Mr Trappitt said the issue was getting worse.

Figures show, in the first three months of this year, police communication centres received an additional 47,000 calls compared to the same time last year.

Mr Trappitt said police regularly monitored the volume of calls coming through the 111 line.

He said normally police received about 30 to 40 111 calls in any 15 minute period on a Saturday night, but on a recent weekend that number swelled to 89 calls.

Of those 89 calls, just nine of them required an immediate response.

Other calls related to bail reporting and historic events, while one caller wanted police to call a vet.

He said one of the most common calls police get was from people who had run out of credit on their cellphone and couldn't call their local police station.

"A large number of our callers are either unsure of the police station number they can ring for a non-emergency call, or they are potentially ringing because they have no money on their phone and they recognise it's a free call.

"Very frequently these callers will start by saying, 'this isn't an emergency, but'..."

But Mr Trappitt said police were starting to take a harder line on such callers.

"With the extra pressure coming on the communication centres, there will be some members of the public who have rung 111 recently who would have had a gentle reminder by the police call taker that what they're ringing about isn't an emergency."

Police are in the process of considering whether they should set up a national phone line for non-emergency calls to lighten the load on the emergency line.

However Mr Trappitt said it could take a few months for police to reach a decision and up to a year to roll out.

In the meantime, police are urging the public only to use the 111 line for real emergencies.

When to call 111

  • Someone is badly injured or in danger
  • There is a serious risk to life or property
  • A crime is being committed and the offenders are still there or have just left
  • You have come across a major public inconvenience, such as trees blocking a highway
  • Any of these things are happening now or have just happened

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