“There’s a lizard on my lawn”, “my neighbour’s washing machine is too loud”, and “my finger is stuck in a bottle” − just three of the latest ‘dilemmas’ that have prompted people to call the police 101 number!
West Midlands Police has issued a timely reminder over what warrants a call to the 101 non-emergency hotline as the force enters its busiest period for call centre demand.
July has recorded the highest monthly tally of 101 calls in each of the last three years with anti-social behaviour, rowdy summer parties, domestic abuse, and alcohol related incidents keeping cops busy.
But among the genuine calls for service West Midlands Police phone staff field hundreds of inappropriate questions or demands from members of the public.
In the last month alone 101 advisors have taken calls from people about injured birds, parcel delivery complaints, and salary payment delays, plus general requests for phone numbers and even a query about the length of time between red and amber traffic lights!
Head of Force Contact, Chief Superintendent Jim Andronov, said: “The 101 number provides a vital service for people to contact us for non-emergency matters − but some people treat it as a general directory service.
“We take literally hundreds of spurious calls a month…these take up valuable police time and delay us dealing with genuine police matters. Many of the queries could be resolved with a simple internet search so our message is: Think Before You Call.”
There were around 11,500 more 101 calls made last July compared to June and 16,000 more compared to August…statistics illustrating the July spike in demand.
Examples of the proper use of 101 include reporting a car as stolen, damaged property, or anyone suspecting drug dealing in their neighbourhood.
But last month 101 was used by someone to report that a peacock had strayed into their garden, another asking for an out-of-hours number for the Indian Embassy, while another caller was asking about travel documents for children.
West Midlands Police will be issuing a selection of 101 audio during July to highlight some of the inappropriate calls, starting with the story of a Lizard on the Lawn captured in Solihull!
Chief Supt Andronov, added: “It’s an amusing call…the man initially suggests it’s a 12-foot lizard on the loose, which would have been a police matter, but quickly corrects himself by confirming it was 12-inches in length.
“The call handler is very courteous, shares a joke with the man, and ultimately suggests he asks neighbours or contacts the local RSPCA office. But on a serious note matters like this are clearly not police incidents.
“Similarly the police do not have powers to prosecute for noise nuisance − including noisy washing machines − or for removing graffiti, both of which are council issues.
“A quick internet search, or using sites like Ask the Police, would quickly clear up confusion like this and keep our call centres free to deal with more pressing matters.”
The pressure on call centres is further exacerbated by calls about payment of fines, penalty notices and road traffic collision investigation − none of which are dealt with by Force Contact but instead by West Midlands Police’s Traffic Process Office.
Motorists don’t have to spend time calling 101 to get through to these departments: they both have dedicated email addresses.
The Central Ticket Office handles fines, fixed penalty notices and speeding offences and can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org
And the Traffic Process Office − TPO_enquiry@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk − deals with minor traffic collisions and allegations of poor driving standards.