call centre atmosphere Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Cape Town - Thousands of people are holding up the police’s 10111 emergency number with hoax or nuisance calls.

Over the festive season, 67 percent of the 209 565 calls made to the call centre in Maitland were non-emergency related.

The operators had people jamming the emergency hotline to request a number for anything from bee catchers in the area to simply hurling insults at the operators, said police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk.

The calls were made between December 1, 2012, and January 15. Only 33 percent of the calls answered by operators were registered as complaints.

The call centre services 69 police stations in the Western Cape.

Van Wyk explained that “info calls” are when a member of the public calls the hotline to request a telephone number for an ambulance, the nearest hospital, the SPCA, the fire brigade or inquire about registered cases, among other things. People will not get arrested for making an info call, he said.

“Nuisance” calls describe calls made by people who call the hotline to swear at the 10111 operators or someone who phones and hangs up the phone as soon as an operator answers.

Van Wyk said the nuisance calls resulted in real emergency calls not getting through to operators.

He said it meant that real emergencies - which could be of a life-threatening nature for a person trying to get hold of the police - were not being answered because the lines were all occupied. Most non-emergency calls are made from public phones and many of the culprits are children calling during school holidays.

Some 4 555 calls were answered a day over the festive season, of which 1 503 were registered as complaints. December 31 and January 1 were the busiest days, with the call centre receiving 16 355 calls then.

Although the annual average of nuisance/info calls decreased from 66 to 63 percent in April 2012, more work needed to be done, said Van Wyk.

“No one has been arrested for making a nuisance call at this stage. All we can do is to call on adults not to phone the emergency number for non-emergencies. And also to educate their children that playing with the emergency number is wrong, and that by doing so, someone can get seriously injured or even killed.”

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Cape Argus