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This quick phone fix could really help emergency services

Something that really frustrates residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (and therefore me) is the amount of time it can take to get through to police.

This quick phone fix could really help emergency services

Picture caption: Devon and Cornwall Police Contact Centre staff

A huge amount of effort and resource has gone into improving the force’s contact centres’ performance in recent years, and notwithstanding a national issue relating to 999 calls on Sunday morning, I am pleased to say that a local focus on 999 emergency calls has seen significant improvements in Devon and Cornwall Police’s response rate over the past year.

In May 2022 63.7% of 999 calls were answered by the force within 10 seconds. By May this year (the last month for which data is available) this figure stood at 75.9%. It’s an improving picture and I and the Chief Constable are keen to see this vital service get better still.

One significant challenge facing all emergency services is the sheer number of ‘pocket dials’ which come into their call centres. We’ve all accidentally dialled a friend or family member before or received such a call, and although most of us simply hang up in these situations, you shouldn’t if you dial 999.

Of course, when the police receive a silent call they can’t ignore it. The caller might well be in distress or having a medical emergency, so all silent calls into Devon and Cornwall Police have to be investigated to check that the caller is OK. Doing so takes around 20 minutes a call, but can take much longer. This takes resource out of the contact centre and away from those in genuine need of help.

Demand for the 999 service has risen over the last four weeks and as part of that, there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of silent calls.

As an illustration of the numbers being dealt with, on Sunday, June 18, between 12am and 7pm, the force received 169 silent 999 calls.

So if you accidentally dial 999, please stay on the line and explain it’s a mistake – rather than get in trouble you will be thanked for doing so.

Those with Android phones can take specific steps to restrict a feature that was introduced as part of an update which is thought to be responsible for many 999 misdials.

The update, issued between October 2022 and February 2023, added a new SOS emergency function for devices to call 999 through the power button being pressed five times or more on devices, but this seems to have inadvertently caused an increase in silent calls.

If you have an Android phone, you can check your emergency settings to turn off the functionality added in the latest update, if you wish to. 

Go to ‘Settings’ then ‘Safety and Emergency’ and slide the button which says ‘Emergency SOS’ to switch the functionality off. 

As always, if a crime is in progress or if there is an immediate risk to person or property, always dial 999. 

If a crime is not in progress, then please consider reporting the incident online via our website in the first instance. Alternatively, you can call 101 or visit one of the force’s Police Enquiry Offices. These are currently in Barnstaple, Bodmin, Bude, Camborne, Plymouth (x2), Exeter, Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, Newquay, Newton Abbot, Penzance, St Austell, Tiverton, Torquay and Truro, with six more due to reopen this year.

If you want to see how the force is performing against a series of national measures, including 999 call times, and how it ranks against other forces in England and Wales, you can find this data online at under the ‘performance’ tab.

The decisions I have made relating to investing in this service will be scrutinised at next Friday’s meeting of the Police and Crime Panel. Papers for the meeting will be published this  week and you can follow the meeting online via following the links on the Plymouth City Council website.