“Help, my kebab has lettuce in it” – students help reduce pressure on 999 emergency calls service

Date 15.02.2016

​​Time-wasters in Northamptonshire who dial the 999 emergency telephone number have reported a number of bizarre instances in 2015, including:

  • “My dog has caught a rat and won’t let it go”
  • “The kebab has lettuce in and I specifically asked not to have lettuce”
  • “I’ve run out of credit on my phone”
  • “I’ve got a wasp nest”

Startling figures reveal 70 per cent of calls made to Northamptonshire Police’s control room via the 999 number do not require a police response.

Now, students from the University of Northampton are working with the force on a pioneering project to help discourage people from unnecessarily calling 999.

Northamptonshire Police have tasked a group of Media Production undergraduates to produce videos to help provide information to people considering calling with non-emergencies.

If successful, Northamptonshire Police will produce further videos itself, influenced by some of those created by the students.

Supt Dennis Murray, who is co-ordinating the initiative for Northamptonshire Police, said: “Northampton is the fastest-growing town in the country, so we are seeing an increase in demand for policing, but at the same time we are having to provide a service that is experiencing huge cuts in funding.

“It’s common for there to be around 1,000 incidents across the county in a day, and if there’s an accident on the motorway, we can get 200 to 300 calls in a few minutes. We have to answer a 999 call within 10 seconds, and manage to answer the majority within four seconds.

“When people dial 999 when they shouldn’t, it puts us under an even greater strain, and so we are hoping this initiative will help to educate such callers and change their behaviour, which will allow us to respond quickly to proper emergencies.”

The undergraduates will be spending the next few months developing their ideas and producing their films, with guidance from Northamptonshire Police and Senior Video Lecturer, Tim Coley, who said: “We arrange numerous opportunities for our students to work on live briefs for industry, which helps us to prepare them for the working world – it is great to think this is the first which could actually save valuable police time.”

Student Jen Shonick said: “Before our visit to the police headquarters I didn’t realise how many people dialled 999 when they shouldn’t. It’s frightening to think that somebody could be on the line to the police to say, for example, their dog has gone missing, meaning somebody in a real emergency – such as being chased by a murderer – can’t get through.

“Hopefully the work we produce will help deter people from abusing the emergency number, help to free up police time and, you never know, could even save lives.”

The University was one of the first in the UK to award Policing degrees and enjoys a close relationship with Northamptonshire Police, which has recruited many Northampton graduates over the years.

In October 2015, the University was awarded Approved Supplier status from the College of Policing for the delivery of its Level 3 Certificate in the Knowledge of Policing.

The certificate, which students on the Policing BA (Hons) degree receive as an additional qualification upon graduation, is essential for those looking to successfully apply for an officer role with many of the UK’s police forces