SINGAPORE - Asking for directions, calling to complain about water dripping from clothes hung out to dry, or just keeping silent on the phone. These are among calls taken by operators manning the police "999" hotline each day, despite efforts to educate the public on proper use of the emergency number. Nuisance calls accounted for more than half of all calls received each year over the past three years, said the police.
Such calls made up 58 per cent, or 825,967 of the 1.4 million calls to 999 last year, up from 56 per cent in 2011. That, however, is a drastic improvement from a peak of more than 1.2 million nuisance calls received in 2004. When combined, nuisance and non-emergency calls made up more than 76per cent of all calls received last year. The proportion of calls on actual emergencies? Just 23 per cent.
Nuisance callers comprise those who either keep mum, make obscene or vulgar remarks and hang up, or who accidentally dial 999, among other things. Non-emergency calls refer to callers who request directions or the phone numbers of other organisations or government agencies.
"These calls hinder our operational efficiency in responding to calls and providing prompt service to those who need urgent police assistance," the spokesman added. The 999 hotline is for the reporting of cases requiring an "urgent response or immediate attention" by the police.
"This includes the reporting of crimes in progress and cases where there is an immediate threat to life or property," said the spokesman. Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said the high number of nuisance and non-emergency calls is a concern and more must be done to raise awareness, especially among the less tech-savvy and less educated portions of the general public.
"There are segments of the public that might not know where to go or who to call for information that can be easily obtained on the Net, for instance," he said. "They need bite-sized information, and to them, the 999 hotline can be used for everything."
Mr Baey said some residents may not be aware that they can contact Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs) directly for non-emergency situations. "But to some of them, calling the NPC and dialling 999 is the same thing."
Last year, the police issued 14,463 nuisance callers with letters containing either an advisory, warning or notice of intended prosecution. Mr Baey added that the most common types of nuisance call could be tracked and highlighted to the public.
The police, in spite of the high traffic of non-emergency calls received, have managed to keep to their strict set of service standards on 999 calls. A spokesman said its standards of answering nine out of 10 emergency calls to the hotline within 10 seconds and responding to urgent incidents within 15 minutes of the call for 87 per cent of the time have been met so far.
People The Sunday Times spoke to and those who responded to a question on The Straits Times Facebook page on user experience when calling 999 said they had not encountered problems or delays.
Mr Bryan Tan said his calls were "always answered within three rings", while Facebook user Lovelle Tan, who called 999 when she was robbed at knife-point once, said the police attended to her "within five minutes".
The police said that from next year, educational brochures on silent and accidental calls will also be rolled out to help generate more awareness on using the emergency hotline.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.