Soaring demand and 999 calls about defrosting turkeys - inside Suffolk Police's control room

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell

A police force has warned that inappropriate and accidental emergency calls are stretching its resources and putting lives at risk.

From April 2022 to March 2023, Suffolk Police said its control room received more than 360,000 calls, a 14% increase on the previous year.

But, in the last few months alone, they have seen callers ring 999 to ask for traffic updates, report dental problems and ask for permission to have a barbecue in a local park.

"At Christmas, they ring up to say I forgot to buy my turkey, where can I get a turkey?" control room operator Pam McGeachie told ITV News Anglia. "Or how long do I have to defrost my turkey for?

"They come through on 999, some very bizarre ones a lot of the time and you know there are people waiting - possibly in a queue - that have got something to report. It can get frustrating."

In another, the caller dialled 999 asking for help to get a dentist.

Police say they have also seen a spike in 'pocket dials' Credit: ITV News Anglia

Suffolk Police: Hello, Suffolk Police emergency.

Caller - I’m sorry to trouble you sir. I need emergency advice by the police services. I’ve got a crisis dental situation. I need to get help. I’ve tried everywhere I can from the top end of London, right the way down to hospital at Huntingdon. I’ve been to Essex, I’ve been hospital in Essex. I’ve tried. I’ve been to Buckinghamshire. I’ve been to hospital in Cambridge. I can’t get help from anywhere. I need to get dental help. 

SP – Ok. Why have you called the police? 

Caller - Well would you be able to know or knowledge of walk-in centres that would be able to help me with dental crisis? 

SP – No. If you call NHS on 111... 

Caller - I’ve done that too... 

SP – OK... 

Caller - I’m getting nowhere with them. 

SP – I won’t be able to provide any more advice than them. They’re the professionals and it’s their remit, not the police.

Many police forces are also warning about a surge in so-called 'pocket dials' with some mobile phone software calling emergency numbers when buttons are repeatedly pressed.

Last week, an Android update which triggered an emergency call when the side button was pressed five times prompted a rise in abandoned and silent calls.

Ch Insp Shawn Wakeling, from Suffolk Police, said: "We're not unique. Everyone is experiencing higher 999 call volume demand.

"If we carry on the way we are this year, we're probably looking at a 40% increase versus where we were in 2020."

The force is recruiting more control room staff and trying to direct people to online reporting and live chat facilities.

They have also taken the radical step of posting real-time updates of emergency calls on Twitter - to highlight the volume and variety of what they are faced with.

Ch Insp Wakeling said: "Types of calls we've had recently have been: 'I'm stuck in traffic, when do you think the traffic's going to clear?'

"Things like: 'can we have a barbecue in Christchurch Park?'

"Not really things anyone, I would like to think, would consider 999-worthy and yet we have received those calls and it has taken up the time of the call-takers."

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