The summer reminder has seen the force reach out to members of the public across social media with a plea not to tie-up call handlers with trivial enquiries – and the mantra “if it’s not 999…search WMP online”.
It comes just weeks after West Midlands Police received the highest daily total of 999 calls in its history: a total of 3,276 were fielded on 7th July which is up 40 per cent on the 24-hour average.
However, many of those calls weren’t life or death emergencies or from people reporting crimes in progress.
Some recent 999 calls have included people reporting an injured duck on the canal network, a wife snoring loudly, and a teenager asking a call handler to contact his mum as he’d run out of phone credit.
The campaign includes a digital marketing push across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram directing people to WMP Online for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions – and where people can report low-level crimes live criminal damage and theft.
And starting from today (Mon 6 Aug) West Midlands Police is releasing a week-long series of videos in which some of its call handlers discuss the pressures of the job, memorable calls…and times they’ve had to bite their lip!
Lyndsey Swallow, head of Contact Handling at WMP, said: “The 999 service is precious: it should be reserved for emergency incidents, when people are in danger, or to report crimes in progress.
“We’re here to help and protect the public – but sometimes we can’t get to people as quickly as we’d like because lines are being clogged up with less serious issues or things that couldn’t possibly be considered a police matter.
“If it’s not an emergency then people can call us on 101 number – but many of the queries we get on that number could be satisfied with a simple internet search.
“WMP Online now has a wealth of information and advice on a range of issues and should be a first port of call for people if their call isn’t urgent – and lower level crimes like thefts and criminal damage can now be reported online as well.”
Last weekend, West Midlands Police took a total of 5,056 emergency 999 calls, spiking at around 1.30am on Saturday morning when almost 50 were taken inside 15 minutes.
Despite the unprecedented demand – on some days outstripping even New Year’s Eve, traditionally the busiest day of the year for police call takers – almost eight in every 10 emergency calls were still answered within 10 seconds.
Call handler Olivia, one of those taking part in the video campaign, recently marked one year with West Midlands Police.
She said: “It’s constant at the moment – the highest demand I’ve ever seen – and I’d say I’m answering up to 50 calls a day. There can at times be tens of calls in the queue on the 101 number and that’s why we’d advise people to go online.
“It’s a pressurised job but really varied; you’re always on your toes as you never know who you’ll pick up the phone to next.
“I once spoke to a nine-year-old girl who called to say she was being abused by her stepdad: she was really brave and gave a very articulate account of what was happening, which of course helps the investigation team.
“And another time I was on the phone to a man who’d suffered a cardiac arrest; I alerted ambulance colleagues and kept him talking but he died moments later. I just hope I was able to offer him some comfort.”
Search WMP Online for help and advice on a range of subjects – the answers to many questions can be found on the force’s new website without the need for calling.