Tweetathon paints a stark picture of policing demand

Last week’s Tweetathon painted a stark picture of the demands facing Dorset Police on a daily basis.

For 12 hours, over a busy Friday night, the Force tweeted every single 999 and 101 call that came into its control room.

And busy it most certainly was. Between 4pm and 4am, Dorset Police sent out 379 tweets – an average of at least one every two minutes – each one relating to a call made by a member of the public.

The sheer range of these calls tells you a lot about modern policing.

They included a man who had been stabbed in the leg at a Bournemouth hotel, causing armed officers to be deployed.

There was also an assault at a fast food takeaway in west Dorset, a report of a rape, an attempted robbery, a man arrested for drink driving, and several calls about missing people.

There were calls about men fighting in the street on Portland, an unexpected death in Dorchester, and abusive homeless people in Poole, as well as dangerous drivers, fights breaking out, domestic abuse, antisocial behaviour and road collisions.

There were also a number of calls which show how often the police deal with incidents involving social care and mental health issues.

This included a 999 call from a man living with dementia in a care home, who was struggling to tell the difference between real life and the TV drama he was watching, as well as calls about people feeling suicidal or threatening self harm.

Of course, there were also those calls that should never have been made to the police.

This includes someone calling 999 to report that Bournemouth traffic lights were stuck on red. The caller was told this was not a police matter and certainly not an emergency, shortly before the lights changed to green and the call was disconnected.

Someone called to say she couldn’t sleep, and explained she was going to eat some chocolate Hobnobs to see if that helped.

Then there was a drunk female in a Bournemouth pub calling to report a man looking at her. When she was told this wasn’t an offence she said she would get a solicitor.

We also saw a number of calls made to 999 that were legitimate requests for police assistance, but which could have been reported online or via 101. This includes a theft of a bottle holder from a bike in Weymouth, an enquiry about ongoing issues relating to a court case, and a car that had been broken into on the previous night.

It’s very important that more people are aware of the fact that calls to 999 should only be made if there is a danger to life or if a crime is in progress. The 101 number, introduced to free up capacity, is there for non-emergency incidents such as criminal damage, anti-social behaviour or stolen vehicles.

Not all non-emergency situations are matters for the police and in Dorset we also have the AskNED service – providing information about who to contact for everything from gas leaks to discarded hypodermic needles.

Worryingly, the evening also saw dozens of ‘dropped’ 999 calls, which had been made accidentally to the emergency number.

These calls have always been a problem but have increased with the advent of Smart phones. As new technology comes online that is able to contact 999 automatically, they are likely to become more of an issue and policing nationally needs to catch up with these trends.

This event shone a spotlight on the huge level of demand that is placed on even a relatively small police force like our own. It’s vital that policy makers understand these rising levels of demand, and I will certainly be making reference to the outcomes of the Tweetathon during any discussions about future funding arrangements.

But it’s important to remember that calling 101 or 999 is often the only experience of dealing with the police many people will have. This event showed the excellent work which is being done on a daily basis, not only by the officers who respond to these incidents, but also by our call handlers.

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