Commissioner Ellington is right on this one

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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POLICE Commissioner Owen Ellington’s suggestion for the introduction of reverse directory technology at the Constabulary’s 119 control centre is worthy of serious examination.

For based on what this newspaper observed during a visit to the call centre a few weeks ago, there is wanton abuse of the system by members of the public.

The commissioner tells us that it will provide the control centre operators with the number from which an individual is making a call, and other details such as name and address.

The technology also has the capability of giving the geographic location of callers, thus making it easy to send help in cases where the callers are unable to speak.

Astoundingly, police data tell us that more than half of the 6.7 million calls received by the centre last year had nothing to do with emergencies.

The Observer reporter who sat with one of the call centre operators during that recent one-hour visit, recorded more than 60 calls that were categorised as ‘silent calls’, meaning that the caller leaves the line open but says nothing. In all those cases there was no indication that the person on the line was in trouble and could not speak. In fact, in quite a number of the cases adults could be heard in the background encouraging children to say something.

The operator also received a number of prank calls, as well as some from men with filthy mouths making lewd suggestions or requests.

Each of the 15 call centre operators works a daily eight-hour shift. Therefore, if you do the multiplication you will get a fair idea of the frustration and trauma being suffered by them.

But just as crucial is the fact that these calls are preventing, or delaying, people with genuine emergencies access to the police.

Against that background, if the reverse directory suggested by Commissioner Ellington will help reduce this reckless abuse of the service, we would urge the Government to treat it with some amount of urgency.

Under that system, Mr Ellington is proposing that the police could, as a first warning, send text messages to people who are abusing the service.

A written caution could be sent next if the person persists, and finally some form of legal sanction if the previous two measures fail to dissuade the abusers.

Where we believe the commissioner will have a problem is with the issue of trust which he, commendably, has acknowledged.

He believes that the Constabulary, based on improvements it has been making in how it operates, is gaining greater respect from the public. As such, the commissioner is firmly of the view that the police have "crossed that hurdle of public confidence".

We believe he has some legs on which to stand on that matter, even as we accept that there is room for more improvement in the Constabulary.
That is why we support Commissioner Ellington’s push to rid the police force of corrupt cops and urge him not to yield to those within the Constabulary who are resistant to this.

We also agree with Mr Ellington that a reverse directory system installed at 119 should not dissuade people with information from calling the police, as there are other numbers that offer such callers the comfort of anonymity.

As it now stands, the abuse of 119 is too rampant to be overlooked, and we all know that the speed with which emergency services respond to situations can mean the difference between life and death.

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