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SAPS Emergency Phone No. 10111 demystified

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Emergency Number 10111
I have heard a lot of grumbling (often quite justified) about the service received by the community when calling the 10 111 emergency call centre.

From what I have gathered, the bulk of the complaints include; being on hold for an excessively long time, calls being dropped and delays in response time from the SAPS.

It first needs to be explained that no matter who you call, 10111 or your local station, the information is broadcast to the same vehicles over the same radio channel. The old perception of 10 111 being “the Flying Squad” is no longer true, and has been so for at least ten years.

In areas that have a strict Sector Policing policy, and the manpower to support it such as Pinetown, the “complaint” that you make gets relayed directly to the vehicle in that area or sector. In Westville for example, we have several vehicles that cover the whole of Westville, and respond to calls in the order they come in or if a more serious complaint is transmitted, will attend that. To give an example, if our patrol van is on its way to attend to a shoplifting, but a housebreaking in progress comes in, they will attend the latter. If the SAPS members are already out of their vehicle and not in radio contact (such as inside the Pavilion Control Room) the complaint will be taken by the second vehicle or the Crime Prevention members if they are on duty.

Note that the Crime Prevention will attend every call that is in progress anyway as they are our “rapid response”. Please do not make your call stating it is in progress if it is not, hoping to get faster attention, this just messes up our resource deployment, and from personal experience, does not lend to friendly community relations. (That is, I just get cross and tell you the patrol van will get to you when they can, then leave.) 

We do take every call seriously, and despite impressions, we actually like what we do for a living and will try and help you as best as we can. We do understand that you may be upset or traumatised by your situation, but screaming at the policeman or woman coming to help you does not improve matters. I can equate this to when you are very sick and wait in the doctor’s office. Do you scream at him when you wait for a long time?

I did some research at the 10 111 call centre and a few facts came to light that may surprise you.

- That centre receives calls from as South as Amanzimtoti, North as Kwa Mashu and surrounding areas, and as West as Hillcrest. How many million people are we talking about?

- On any one day there is an average of eight people answering phones and taking information down then dispatching it to the relevant channel operator. Each complaint will take a few minutes to process accurately, and the person calling before you demands the exact same level of service that you do.

- Peak time for incoming complaints is between 08h00 and 10h00. This is usually taken up by calls concerning housebreakings when people have got up in the morning, or break ins at businesses when people arrive at work.

- The second peak time is between 17h00 and 18h00. (5-6pm) Again, this is when people arrive home after work and finds homes burgled.

- Every Friday, all day is a peak time right until 04h00 Saturday morning.

According to the call takers, one of the most frustrating and time wasting things are prank calls. Most of these are from children. The challenge the SAPS members face is that there is a heightened attention to attend to crimes against women and children, so the call taker has to listen to the complete story, process it and a vehicle has to be dispatched to the scene, often to find the address does not exist. You can see how this is a complete waste of time, effort and resources. However, it is not in the call taker’s power to decide what is a prank call and what isn’t. There is no way we could discard a call as being a prank from any child. You could imagine if your child was in need and the call was dismissed as a joke.

Let us do a simple maths exercise. Start with 1 million people in the greater Durban area. (conservatively) If only 1% of them call 10111 in a 24 hour period, (10 000 calls) and there are 8 call takers, each one, without a break takes 52 complaints an hour. That’s 1 a minute, and it takes more than a minute to process a complaint.

So, then add up the enormous population served, the number of people serving and the real problem of prank calling, perhaps you can understand the waiting on hold, the slow service, etc. I am certainly not condoning bad service delivery; I am merely stating the facts.

There will be a sector of the community who will merely demand that more call takers are employed. To that I answer; why don’t you consider volunteering your time and help them out.

Further, a simple remedy, I always suggest, may be to call as many different numbers you can to get help. Perhaps call your station first, then call 10 111, they will be able to tell you if your complaint has been registered and somebody is on the way. You can also call the Metro Police Service call centre, 031-361 0000. Thirdly, the Station Commissioner has a 24 hour Customer Care Line. If all the above fails, try it. Many people in Westville will attest to the service received. Please try not to call him first when your neighbour’s dog is barking at 3am. Believe it or not, he has to sleep sometime.

Lastly, (under pain of broken fingers) educate your children about the 10 111 number. It is for emergencies. It is not a toy. Somebody’s life could be in danger because we are rushing around after them because they are bored.

Lastly, please don’t tell me that those manning the 10111centre are “useless”, as I have often heard. Those are my colleagues you are talking about. I rely on them as much as you do. They work extremely hard under great pressure. People’s lives are in their hands. Your lives are in their hands. Be patient, courteous and I’m sure you will receive the same back. 

Cst Stephen Clark
SAPS Westville
Social Crime Prevention.