Dorset Police have had to deal with more than 35,000 calls from time-wasters.
Residents are being urged to think before they dial after one man rang the police because he had run out of credit on his phone and needed a taxi.
Another called for assistance because he had got a video stuck in a video recorder.
When asked if he really thought he needed the police, he said ‘it’s an emergency’.
Reports of potholes, power cuts and noise complaints are just some examples of people misusing both the 999 emergency and 101 non-emergency numbers.
The Echo decided to look in to the issue after Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said he plans to spend thousands of pounds to write to every household in Dorset and advise residents how to use the numbers.
Speaking to the Echo, Kevin Sargent operations manager of Force Control, said: “Call 999 in an emergency – when you require an immediate response.
“Please only use this number when a crime is happening or has just happened or if anyone is in danger.
“Remember that if you dial 999 to report something that’s not an emergency somebody in an immediate need of assistance might have to wait for longer for their call to be answered.”
“101 is to report crime that is not an emergency or to make general enquiries, or if you are trying to contact the police but don’t have the extension number.”
But residents are also calling 999 when they know they need to call 101 – they just have no money on their phones to do so.
Another issue is people calling 999 accidentally or dialling and then ‘thinking better of it’.
In this case, Dorset Police advises callers to continue with the call and tell the operator they have made a mistake.
“We have people ringing 999 and then thinking better of it and hanging up before speaking to the operator,” said Kevin.
“The operator has then got to assess whether someone might be in trouble, so we have to do an investigation to locate that call.
“This causes a lot of expense to the police and a lot of embarrassment to the caller.
“We might have to locate and speak to a relative to make sure that person is okay.
“If you dial 999 and realise you have made a mistake, hang on and speak to the operator and tell them you’ve dialled by accident.
“If you dial and hang up, BT will tell us someone has called 999 and we would have to investigate to find out why you have done that.
“It could be someone is in trouble. Or, in a domestic incident it could be that the caller has had the phone snatched off them.
“If you have dialled by mistake, it’s much better to have the embarrassment of speaking to an operator than the bigger embarrassment of having a police officer knock on your door.”
Dorset Police is currently undergoing a ‘significant change programme’ which will bring its two control centres together at the headquarters at Winfrith.
The new dual control room should be open in May.
Officers say they believe this will ‘enhance our ability to manage risk to the public and at the same time provide better value to the taxpayers of Dorset’.
LAST YEAR the Force received 79,600 emergency calls and 274,908 non-emergency calls.
An estimated one in 10 calls is made incorrectly.
Based on these numbers, it means more than 35,000 came in to the control room that shouldn’t have been made.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Unfortunately, there have been occasions when the 101 service has been misused, often for misguided reasons, rather than malicious.
“Civil and criminal matters can become confused. I would urge people to use 101 wisely. If a crime is in progress or life or property is in immediate danger, 999 should be used. For all other reasons, 101 is the number.”
Speaking at the last Dorset Police and Crime Panel, Mr Underhill said he would be sending information packs to every home across Dorset about cyber crime and the correct use of police phone numbers.
He said the leaflets could be a joint strategy between Dorset and other police forces in the south west.
At the time of the meeting, the estimated cost for the leaflets was around £50,000 but this figure could change.
Dorset Police exceeding national targets
DORSET Police are exceeding the national target of answering 90 percent of emergency calls within 10 seconds.
Dorset’s PCC set a slightly higher target for Dorset Police to answer 95 percent of calls within 10 seconds.
Last year, Dorset Police answered 95.22 per cent of calls within 10 seconds.
In 2013 the force received 218 emergency calls and 753 calls to 101 per day.
999 call handlers at Winfrith undergo an initial four-week training course. They then go into the control room and are assigned a tutor for between three and six months.
For non-emergency calls, call handlers go on a five-week training course.
When the new dual centre opens in May, there ‘will be an expectation that more staff will become dual ability’.
It is expected that merging the two control rooms will save between £1.6m and £4.7m over the next five years.
'Sir, there are maggots in my bin'
POLICE forces across the UK have warned residents about the amount of time wasted on incorrect calls. Last year, a woman in Derbyshire dialled 999 to tell police she was alone in the house with a spider.
Another told the police her phone was not working and she would miss her hair appointment.
Manchester Police received a call from a woman reporting maggots in her bin, a man requesting ‘pregnancy pills’ and another saying that his car parking space had been stolen.
Police in Scotland have taken to Twitter to shame 999 timewasters, including a person who called to report they had received the wrong order in a takeaway in a restaurant and another who wanted to know where they could buy milk.
In Nottinghamshire, a teenager called the police to report a red card in a football game.
Notts Police have also received queries such as ‘do I need a licence for my tortoise?’ and ‘A cat is following me and I think it might be lost’.