The 119 emergency number serves as a means through which persons with genuine emergencies can receive urgent assistance.
However, the emergency line is being plagued by persons abusing the system through prank calls and other general enquires that are not considered dire.
In an interview with JIS News, Superintendent with responsibility for Police Control and Emergency, Kenneth Wade, informs that more than 86 per cent of the calls to 119 are prank calls, intentional misuse calls or purposeful non-emergency enquiries, and silent calls.
He says that the problem is preventing the police from promptly responding to legitimate crisis situations.
Superintendent Wade explains that “whenever a citizen makes a call to 119 it comes into a pool, so if there are 80 or 90 other calls before yours, then yours will be dealt with in the order in which it comes into this pool. And therefore, in any case of emergency, irrespective of how urgent that need might be, you cannot get a response until all those calls are cleared, before coming to your call.”
He tells JIS News that some 27,000 calls are logged to 119 each day, and with limited resources, “we are only able to deal with about 45 per cent to 46 per cent of these calls. We have found that of the 27,000 calls that come in each day, invariably, we are only able to accept 11,000.”
According to Superintendent Wade, prank calls are highest during school breaks when children are at home. However, not all prank calls are made by children as adults abuse the system.
“We are asking all parents and anyone, who uses the emergency line, to desist if they do not have an emergency call. What it does is delay any assistance to persons, who have a need,” he points out.
Superintendent with responsibility for Police Control and Emergency, Kenneth Wade, makes notes during a recent interview with JIS News, where he spoke about the abuse of the 119 emergency system.
Also contributing to the abuse of the 119 system are “internal customers”, who contribute to 20 per cent of intentional misuse calls. Police personnel, Superintendent Wade says, place calls to Police Control Centre (PCC) to be transferred to other stations or sections, or to make general enquiries such as an officer’s number or motor vehicle information.
He says that the force is looking to improve its communication system, so that members do not have to call 119. “We are going to be ensuring that we create an internal mechanism outside of the police radio that we can communicate with our policemen and women on the ground without using 119. We are looking at setting up toll free lines so that we can communicate with (members) as it relates to their operations and to assist them to make their work more efficient,” Superintendent Wade tells JIS News.
Presently, there are no laws, which make abuse of the 119 emergency system a prosecutable offence, neither is there a nationally recognised protocol to address 119 misuse and abuse.
“There are other aspects of law that we could use, no doubt, such as the Nuisance Act, in terms of bringing charges against these persons. But there are other technicalities that will have to be ironed out if we are to proceed in this way,” Superintendent Wade says.
Inspector Angela Muir of the PCC tells JIS News that the unit has engaged the services of a lawyer to get legal advice on how best the police can deal with the problem of prank calls.
“First of all, we are looking at whether or not abuse of 119 is an offence or a misdemeanour. We have not come up on any laws that speak to it and so we are in contact with a lawyer, who will actually be looking…to find out whether we can actually bring it under common law or statute. If not, we might have to ask for legislation to deal with abuse of the 119 lines,” she explains.
The 119 number should only be used in an emergency. Persons are advised not to call 119 to test if the phone works; to get the number for a police department or station; to ask the police a question regarding a situation that does not require immediate assistance; to teach children to call 119 only in an emergency; to ask a policeman or woman out on a date; because you are stuck in traffic jam; or to get a cat out of a tree.
Calls should only be made to 119 for incidents such as shooting, serious traffic accident, or crime in progress. Persons making a call should have vital information ready such as the address and description of people involved in an incident; and in the case of a serious accident, the intersection and model of car/s involved.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Wade tells JIS News that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is in the process of modernising and reorganising the PCC. He is also encouraging Jamaicans to know the numbers of their local police stations.
“What we want to do is (implement) a public education campaign, both internally and externally, using the media to assist us,” Superintendent Wade adds.