Copyright This Is Lancashire

[ October 26th 2001 ]

A new system to deal with the crippling problem of silent 999 calls to police has been welcomed by police bosses after it was revealed it had led to a drop of 4,000 calls a week.

Chief Constable Pauline Clare said the solution to the problem - which has seen police divisional call-centres swamped with accidental calls from mobiles - should go a long way to freeing up police time to deal with urgent cases. Mrs Clare told a meeting of the Lancashire Police Authority that all silent 999 calls were now diverted to the Metropolitan Police in London. Before the system was introduced, operators put all silent 999 calls through to the police control room.

Now silent calls to the operator are diverted to an "auto-attendant" at the Met with a recorded message instructing the caller to press 55 in a genuine emergency. If 55 is detected the caller is put through to the emergency services in Lancashire. Otherwise the auto-attendant informs the operator that the line is silent and should be freed. Mrs Clare said: "There has been a problem with silent 999 calls and the Metropolitan Police are now going to take calls and deal with them. The system started on October 1 and since then there has been a 4,000 calls per week drop. This is good news and we are now looking at ways to use that freed up time."

The new system follows trials by New Scotland Yard which resulted in just one genuine emergency call out of more than 80,000 received from mobiles. Supt Steve Cox, in charge of communications for Lancashire Police, said: "Thirty per cent of all mobile 999 calls received in Lancashire are silent. We estimate that within 12 months of introducing this system we will achieve a reduction of around 100,000 unnecessary calls."

Mrs Clare also said more than 350 new operators to work in the constabulary's communication rooms were to be employed and that an independent consultant had been employed to review how all calls were dealt with. Police bosses are also looking at the possibility of a new easy to remember non-emergency number for the public, such as 555, to use, though this is in the early stages. They are also continuing to liaise with mobile phone companies to try to address the design faults which have led to so many accidental 999 calls.

Many models of mobile phone allow users to lock the keypads so they can't make any calls by mistake. But some allow 999 calls even when the lock is on. Talks are under way with mobile phone manufacturers Nokia - whose 3310 model is responsible for 60 per of all silent calls made - and Ericsson, whose sales have soared as one of their models was used in the Tomb Raider movie.

The communications centre in Burnley began receiving mobile calls in June, and the number of calls dealt with by the centre rocketed from 23,000 to 38,000 calls, of which hundreds were accidental calls from mobile phones. Around 50,000 calls a week are handled in East Lancashire.

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