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Police 999 abusers: Man complaining about being asked to leave a pub, another who missed his bus and asked for a lift and girl who couldn't find her way out of stinging nettles

A motorist on the M11 called 999 and asked for a police escort – because they were late home for dinner.

The incident is one of too many non-emergency calls being made to Essex Police by people abusing the service.

In the past six months, the force has received calls from a man complaining about being asked to leave a pub, another who asked for a lift because he had missed his bus and a girl who said she could not find her way out of stinging nettles.

The force control room at Essex Police's Chelmsford HQ (50917571)
The force control room at Essex Police's Chelmsford HQ (50917571)

Police were also repeatedly called by a man who kept asking for a pizza and hanging up. The only thing that arrived at his door were two police officers with some stern words of advice.

Essex Police's force control room (FCR) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has around 270 staff.

Over the August bank holiday weekend, the team took 3,176 calls through the emergency 999 line, 1,885 calls through 101 and logged a total of 4,463 incidents. The average answer time for a 999 call was 5.7 seconds.

Chief Inspector Ian Gennery, who leads the FCR, says that although the vast majority of the public call 999 only in an emergency, those who misuse the system should be aware there are other ways of contacting police.

He said: “People need to ask themselves whether their situation is truly an emergency and whether a police response is needed as quickly as possible.

“Recently we had a situation on the M11 where someone was asking for a police escort because they were late home for dinner. Do we really need to be directing officers and resources away from a domestic incident or a serious collision to come and help you?

“If it doesn’t, there are a lot of other methods you can use and there are lots of resources to look at on our website. You can use the 101 system to speak to someone over the phone, the live chat function on our website or submit an online report.

“But if you do need police urgently and you’re in trouble and need help, call 999.”

Chief Inspector Gennery says his team will never disconnect a call without offering advice, but a worrying amount of calls are not emergencies.

Lauren Simmons, a communications officer in the FCR, has been answering 999 calls for three years. She says that she enjoys helping people and that her naturally calm nature and ability to handle conflict help her deal with difficult calls.

“We talk to people who might be experiencing the worst day of their lives. I try to reassure them and let them know that help is coming, especially in emergencies that are ongoing," she said.

“It can be distressing to listen to someone who's very upset and sometimes you can hear things you don’t want to hear, like people being attacked. Luckily, calls this severe are few and far between, but it can be gruelling.

“One call always sticks in my mind. I was being tutored and fairly new to the job when a woman disclosed a rape to me and described the things that had been done to her. I’ll never forget it. Sometimes you have to step out of the room and decompress for a few minutes.”

Unsurprisingly, Lauren gets frustrated when the system is abused.

“I took a hoax call from teenagers in Pitsea who said that there were a group of individuals running round with weapons. We sent officers urgently to search the location because obviously we have to treat these calls as genuine, but it was such a waste of resources that could have been used to help people in urgent need.

“I also had someone call me because they couldn’t get their boyfriend home because he was too drunk. When I politely said that unfortunately this wasn’t something the police could help with, I was verbally abused.

“No matter what their reasoning may be, everyone knows that you don’t call 999 for a taxi or a pizza. It’s common sense.”

For non-emergency reports, please call 101 or visit https://www.essex.police.uk. You can also use the 'Live Chat' button on the force's website to speak with the same team who respond to emergency calls. If you’re unsure if your report relates to a policing matter, please visit www.askthe.police.uk/.

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