Image: © West Midlands Police via Flickr

UK police say they can’t cope with all their 999 calls

The English and Welsh police force say they’re so overwhelmed by 999 calls that they’ve stopped responding to certain crimes.

What it means: In 2017, about eight million calls were made to the emergency number of the English and Welsh police (Scotland and Northern Ireland have seperate emergency services). That works out as more than 15 calls every minute, a figure police say they simply cannot cope with.

Since 2010, the UK government has reduced the amount of money they give to the police force by 20 percent in real terms (i.e. compared to how much inflation, or costs, have gone up). At the same time, the number of 999 calls is rising: by 10.5 percent in 2016-17 alone. Police say lack of peoplepower means they’re now simply not responding to some reports of criminal activity, including “criminal damage and assault”. And some people calling 999 are having to wait so long for someone to pick up that they hang up before they can get help.

The government could fix the 999 problem by putting more money into the police force. Police say high staff turnover and old, outdated technology are a big part of their problem. Cash for pay rises and new tech might solve that. But the reason the Conservative government cut the police budget in the first place was that it said it was unaffordable to spend so much on it. It hasn’t changed it’s mind; when it revealed its recent spending plans for the next year it said the only extra money the police would get was £160 million for fighting terrorism.

So some people think a better solution is dissuading people from making 999 calls for non-emergencies. (Each year, about 5.5 million crimes are committedin England and Wales, a far lower number than the amount of 999 calls police receive). Just five people called the police emergency line 8,655 times between them last year. That took up police time and cost £70,000.

It’s not that these people didn’t need help - they all had chronic mental health conditions. But it makes more sense for them to be helped by the healthcare service, not the police. The government seems to be wising up to this, promising to put an extra £2 billion into mental health care.

Read our explainer on government budgets.

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