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A campaign by police in Hertfordshire to reduce numbers of hoax 999 calls to the force has seen a 24 per cent reduction since it was launched in 2009.
In 2009 Herts Police recorded 3,827 hoax calls to 999. However, last year this figure was just 2,910 – a significant 917 fewer calls.
Under the slogan “Only a fool would make a hoax 999 call”, 17 videos with real hoax 999 calls and inappropriate use of the 999 service were released to highlight the dangers. In addition, convictions for hoax callers have been publicised.
The initiative also aimed to educate people around what was a police matter, when to use 999 and when to use the non-emergency police number (0845 33 00 222), for those who are unsure.
A Christmas hoax call to 999, made on Boxing Day, generated over 700 comments and 270,000 views on the Constabulary’s YouTube page – 150,000 of these in the first 24 hours. It was the fourth most viewed video on New Year’s Day, and was also linked to other media’s websites.
Jason Baxter, Assistant Manager at Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Force Communication Room, said: “I am thrilled to see this drop in hoax calls, which means that we can divert more resources to genuine emergencies and more call-takers are free to assist genuine callers.
“This decrease is testament to the fact that our campaign is obviously hitting home, greatly assisted by some really strong coverage in the media – both local and national. I would like to thank the media and the public for their support during this campaign.”
He added: “However, there are still a number of individuals who think it is funny or cool to waste our valuable resources in this way, so we will continue to run this campaign to bring that figure down still further.
“We will also continue to prosecute anyone found making a hoax call of this kind and will publicise their selfish and foolish actions.
“My question to those individuals responsible is - what if it was you or your loved one trying to get through? Imagine you were either kept waiting because a hoax caller was taking up the time of a caller handler or you did not receive all the resources you should have because some were diverted to a hoax call.”
Fact file on making hoax calls:
• The maximum penalty for hoax call offences is up to six months imprisonment and a fine of £5,000. If it involves specifically wasting police time this can be up to seven years behind bars.
• All phone calls are recorded and can be used as evidence. Police have the power to disconnect mobiles from which hoax calls are made.
• A hoax call is where someone rings 999 for a deliberately malicious reason.
• An inappropriate call is where someone rings the 999 service in error. This can be where people make 999 calls to pass messages on to officers or when they in fact want to get hold of another agency, such as a water board or electricity company.
• Using specialist software, police are also able to trace where calls are made from, including from mobile phones, and so locate any hoax callers and obtain their telephone numbers.
• People should only dial 999 in an emergency. An emergency is when there is a risk of injury to someone or a risk of serious damage to property, you suspect a crime is in progress or there is a serious incident which needs immediate police attendance.
• If there is no emergency, use the non-emergency number 0845 33 00 222 or contact your neighbourhood team (numbers are available on the Hertfordshire Constabulary website). If you are phoning from a mobile, it is sometimes cheaper to use 01707 354000.