SINGAPORE: The police fielded about 1.2 million calls to its 999 hotline last year but only one third of those calls required direct police intervention or were about emergencies. The rest were either pranks or misdirected calls.
“For every nuisance call that we handle, there could be another member of public who is in need of police assistance,” said the commanding officer of the Police Operations Command Centre (POCC), Superintendent Victor Ho. “And this emergency could be a matter of life and death, even more so in today's security climate."
The police said the vast majority of nuisance calls are accidental while the rest typically involve prank or silent callers. These callers are usually warned of the consequences of such actions by the officers who pick up the calls. Last year, a 55-year-old man was jailed for 24 months for making “numerous” nuisance calls to 999. The maximum penalty is five years' jail, a fine of S$20,000, or both.
Misdirected calls are more ambiguous in nature, ranging from complaints over food hygiene at coffee shops to the lack of air-conditioning at hospital wards. Some even called 999 to ask for a ride home because they were too drunk to drive.
In one instance, a caller implied there was a fire in her estate by complaining about a strong burning smell that caused her breathing problems. Police classified the call as “urgent” and sent officers and firefighters to the scene.
But when they arrived, they did not find any fires in the area. “It turned out to be from an incense bin,” said the operator who handled the call, Muhammad Fadhil. The officers advised the caller to not make such calls.
“THE PUBLIC DOESN’T KNOW WHO ELSE TO CALL”
While the proportion of nuisance calls remained fairly consistent between 2012 and 2016, that of misguided calls climbed steeply last year. In 2012, POCC received nearly 1.6 million calls. Of these, about 210,000 or 13 per cent were misdirected. The situation gradually improved, hitting a four-year low of about 6 per cent in 2015.
But last year, numbers shot up again. Of the 1.2 million calls received, 11 per cent were misdirected, about double the percentage from 2015. "Very often, the public doesn't know who else to call,” said Supt Ho.
Police are concerned that such calls put a strain on police resources, and they are urging the public to call 999 only when the situation is absolutely critical.
When to call the 999 emergency hotline:
1. A crime is in progress.
2. Someone suspected of committing a crime is close by, or you know where the person is.
3. A further crime might be committed.
4. Someone is/has been seriously injured or is in danger.
5. When you observe suspicious characters, incidents or suspicious parcels left at public areas.
6. You witness a hit-and-run traffic accident or any other crime
Police said they regularly educate the public on when it is appropriate to use the 999 hotline by engaging schools and the media. Emergency call operators are also trained to advise misguided callers on the proper channels, which could include statutory boards or town councils.
For non-critical cases, there is a range of options available, the police said. The public can call 1800-255-0000, visit the i-Witness portal online, email SPF_Police_Information@spf.gov.sg or use the Police@SG app. They can also lodge a report at any Neighbourhood Police Centre/Post.