This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but all the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't pay my salary.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nein Nein Nein

We get at least three or four "silent 9s" calls a day in Blandmore alone. This is when someone has dialled 999 but not made any requests or spoken.

It's down to the operator to decide whether the call is one of these, or one of these. Quite often it's a child playing with the line, or a mobile dialling in someone's pocket. Sometimes it's a drunk teenager with nothing better to do. And sometimes it's someone tied up in the back of a rapist's van, praying that the police will triangulate their phone and rescue them.

999 operators (or an automatic system) can request the caller to "press the keypad" if they need help. But this doesn't sort out the hoaxers from the genuine calls. Usually we won't respond unless there is something heard, even if just a slight scuffle, whisper or disturbance, or if the phone number is known to us as a regular victim of domestic violence. When we do decide to respond, we very often have no idea what address to attend - unless the call is from a landline, which most of them aren't nowadays. Triangulation can narrow it down to a few hundred addresses, which is not that useful.

Hannah Foster, aged 17, was strangled by her rapist and her body dumped, before the attacker went home to his wife and kids.

Her mother said of the girl:
"Some 17-year-old girls are feisty. They would have been screaming, they'd have kicked out, they'd hurled abuse at him, they'd have made it really hard for him.

"But Hannah was absolutely totally unable to deal with the threat of violence, raised voices, she would have just turned to jelly.

"I knew my daughter so well, she'd have had nothing left to fight with. That's what tortures us, she just did not even have a chance."

Perhaps it's a consolation that Hannah did fight - she made a 999 call under what must have been incredibly dangerous circumstances, but when she was unable to speak to the operator, the call was cut off by an automated system. If a person had been listening, they would have heard this conversation between Hannah and her abductor. Would they have realised this wasn't a normal accidental 999 call, or would they have cut it off all the same?

There are some jobs that computers just shouldn't do.

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'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

31 Comments:

Anonymous CT Barbarian said...

Usually we won't respond unless there is something heard

Really? That's surprising. If someone dials 911 in my patch and there is no answer dispatch must send a unit.

25 November, 2008 23:52

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

once my dad's phone dialled 999 in his pocket without him knowing about it - he was a bit surprised when the police turned up on his doorstep. So some areas must have different policies.

25 November, 2008 23:59

 
Blogger River said...

We should be using technology to save lives, not dismiss victims to a disconnect. I hope some one in authority understands this, for they are ultimatly responsible for the young girl's horrific and senseless death. Had they not implemented this failed system, there is a slim chance the girl might still be alive.

26 November, 2008 07:06

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can barely imagine the torturous agony the parents endure every time they hear a telephone ring. It is for sure some insensitive bureaucrat has already offered them the wonderful consolation of 'lessons being learned'.

26 November, 2008 08:16

 
Blogger Metcountymounty said...

The initial 999 operator was a person, they are usually the network or BT line owner who then refer through to the relevant service, once they had no contact with the caller it is referred through to NSY, that's when it becomes automated. I would hate to be the operator who would have heard that conversation and thought nothing of it, to later find out it was Hannah Foster.

We've got a couple of serial pains in the arse who think it's hilarious to travel up town and then walk around calling in hoax calls and then watch us fly around looking for "male being stabbed" "female heard screaming from an alleyway" or "two suspects heard talking about shooting someone, gun seen" types calls. I've worked in the control room doing call handling and the number of accidental mobile 999 calls is ridiculous. As everyone knows the 999 system is massively abused with people calling the Police for bin fires (because the fire brigade are sooooo busy) or an ambulance for a cut finger. Unless we start fining people for misuse or refusing to attend calls after misuse or abuse and put the responsibility back to them, then some people will still take the system for granted which is why it becomes automated after no discernible answer and people like Hannah will fall through the ever increasing cracks.

26 November, 2008 09:48

 
Blogger Hogday said...

In my previous life, during a few years posting in the force control room (Oh dear, the title `Force` control room does date me so) all silent 999's would get a response, prioritised depending on the volume of work at the time. Occasionally it would be a genuine emergency and that `occasionally` statistic kept us happy to respond.

26 November, 2008 09:52

 
Blogger Hogday said...

Oh yes, and I agree with metcountymountie that we should prosecute the crap out of the false call perpetrators.

26 November, 2008 09:56

 
Anonymous AnalogueAndy said...

Thanks Ellie for this one which contains an important message for parents with young children, grandparents or would-be's.

As soon as they are old enough, explain how the phone works and tell them about 999.

There are plenty of stories of kids as young as 3 'saving' injured or ill parents by dialling the nines.

Just as important there are still too many (not as well publicised)cases of kids dialling 999 whilst 'playing with the phone'.

26 November, 2008 13:17

 
Blogger staghounds said...

A shame that Miss Foster's mother isn't using her fifteen minutes to make a point that might save other daughters.

YOUR CHILD'S LIFE IS IMPORTANT.

TEACH HER TO RESIST.

SCREAM, BITE, SCRATCH, KICK.

LOUDLY, HARD, NOW.

DON'T GO WITH HIM, NOT ONE STEP.

HE'S TAKING YOU TO THE MURDER SCENE.

She was only incapable of resistance because that's what she was taught.

26 November, 2008 13:58

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice one Staghounds. I like the way you blame the mum for the daughter's acquiescence, that's classy.
It's not like some people are born timid and quiet, they're made that way, right?
Just what the hell do you know about Mrs Foster or her daughter?

26 November, 2008 15:15

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a modicum of hope that you are an average social worker, Staghounds. Hope is lost if you are serving as a tactful front line police officer.

26 November, 2008 18:08

 
Blogger Constable Confused.com said...

"In my previous life, during a few years posting in the force control room"
HOGDAY well done for your time in th control room, I wouldn't want to do it. The difference now is that the number of unregistered mobile phones is through the roof! If a landline dials 999 it can always be traced as can registered mobile phones to an address.
If an unregistered mobile phone (I don't know if the one in this case was so can't talk with any authority) dials 999, where do you look? They can triangulate using mobile phone masts but this only gives a rough location such as it was near to XYZ. If someone has dialled the police before and been pinned to an address, the patrol will be sent there only to find on may occassions that it has been sold on.
Lessons can be learned by operators and control room staff but one also needs to be learned by the service providers. This could include things such as no registration, no service.
thanks for listening

26 November, 2008 18:48

 
Blogger PC Bloggs said...

If the above comment is true, and the call is first connected to a person before being transferred to the automatic message, then how on earth does having an automated system save any money or time at all?

26 November, 2008 19:03

 
Blogger Constable Confused.com said...

It doesn't mate, just gives the person time to respond if they are under duress and finally get the opportunity to answer the call. It also gives a hefty dose of "CYA" to the emergency services in cases which do go wrong.
That's how it works in my large north western police "service" anyway.
The earlier statement I assure you is true to my force. Excuse the crap blog I have got just starting.

26 November, 2008 19:11

 
Blogger Metcountymounty said...

The thing with triangulation or cellsite, is that in order for the request to be sent to the company under RIPA it HAS to be signed by an officer of the rank of Superintendent or higher, and that officer MUST believe that there is risk of significant harm or risk to life. We can't do it willy-nilly or on the possible hunch that maybe possibly perhaps the silent calls could maybe be someone trying to pass a secret message to the operator. Perhaps.

According to the BBC today, there are 100,000 silent calls to the 999 system, with less than 0.9% being later confirmed as genuine requests.

The problem we have is we (the Police) don't actually do the trace, it is a request to the relevant phone operator sent once all the relevant and legal authorities have been signed.

We are at the whim of the phone operators with regard to timescales and they charge for each and every trace. In a recent job I dealt with the cellsite request cost £5k, even just to trace 10% of them would be £50million a day!

26 November, 2008 19:49

 
Blogger Constable Confused.com said...

Make people register PAYG phones/simcards. Would assist in at least some of the calls, not all of them.

It would also make it more difficult for travelling street chemists to conduct business with no registration = no service.

26 November, 2008 19:53

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

even with a human operator answering the call... could they have foreseen the dreadful consequences of one call?

from what i can recall the conversation was along the lines of (kidnapper) so do you live around here?

Even a human operator may not pick up on the subtleties of such a question

It may be chalked up to
"No Request Made"
"No Disturbance in background"
"No registered user of mobile"
"No further Action"

As mentioned earlier when you dial 999 i believe it will go to a human operator who asks

"which service do you require"
"i cannot hear any response, if you need help please tap the handset once"

if they still dont get a response all calls are passed through to the police to log onto their command and control systems and try to attempt further contact...


As for Anonymous' scathing remarks towards staghounds... I don't think he is wrong.... People should be taught how to defend themselves...

If you have been taught to do, the worst that can happen is you 'choke' and fail to act for a period.. hopefully at some point adrenaline/training comes into play again

26 November, 2008 22:23

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more after the event wisdom

26 November, 2008 22:42

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more self opinionated drivel....

Wisdom happens after events because hopefully we should learn from such tragic consequences...

We live in a world where people who commit 'serious offences' and are a 'danger to themselves and to the public' are given leave from their minimal security places of detention... and what happens... they fill their boots with their morbid and derogatory desires... whilst others sit back and say "more after event wisdom"

We should all be prepared to defend ourselves... even if it means punching someone on the nose to get away!

27 November, 2008 01:17

 
Anonymous chryssy hyde said...

no, not the post you numb nut, the after the event criticising of unknown knowns,to paraphrase that yank bloke.

don't get me wrong, again, as that pop star said.

27 November, 2008 20:11

 
Anonymous Pete said...

Hey Metcounty - when we worked Marble Arch together you used to say that if any Twat of the general public complained about you that you'd call him a Twat to his face.

WTF happened after that last time?

BTW: How's Steve? Does he still make you those beautiful chicken dinners when you get home at nights?

28 November, 2008 00:38

 
Anonymous Retired Sgt said...

The message that I am getting from this is-Dont bother dialling 999 if you are introuble cos if you dont say anything you will be cut off-and we wont even make the simplest of efforts-what an indictement of the modern police service.

28 November, 2008 17:32

 
Blogger Metcountymounty said...

Retired Sgt, agreed, but then to answer a comment by CT Barbarian and whether or not we should deploy to each silent 999 'just in case' even if it took half an hour for each one (travel time there, finding the person, resulting it) with over 5.5 million silent 999 calls a year according to the BBC, you'd need at least another 2000 officers physically on the street just to be sent to them. Then more vehicles, radio operators, line management etc for them. To put that into perspective, thats the size of a decent county force - just to deal with silent 999 calls, with more than 99% of their job being pointless as less than 1% of silent 999s are actually emergencies.

28 November, 2008 17:59

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Metcounty you've demonstrated on your own blog, you haven't the first clue what is involved in locating a mobile phone. Nor the limitiations.

In fact, given a piece of paper and a pencil I doubt whether you could do the simple schoolboy geometry to illustrate the principle of triangulation.

And from your latest post here., you sure as hell don't understand basic arithmetic either.

28 November, 2008 20:52

 
Blogger Metcountymounty said...

why would you use geometry?

28 November, 2008 21:05

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a call handler, and I wasn't aware of any such automatic system. I'm quite shocked - I think a human being, even if a BT operator rather than police staff, should listen to every single 9s call. Computer technology is not capable of making that judgement call.

There are so many issues surrounding use and abuse of 9s. My priorities would be a massive public education campaign on when it is appropriate to use it, what to do if you find your phone has accidentally called 999 from your pocket and so on. I'd also like something done about unregistered PAYG mobiles.

01 December, 2008 02:22

 
Anonymous mac said...

As the father of two teenage daughters I can confirm that I have drummed into them everything Staghounds said, almost word for word. If someone is trying to get you into a vehicle they are just wanting to take you somewhere quiet to do unspeakable things and then kill you. Fight there and then because your life depends on it and the worse case scenario is you die a better death with a better chance of the attacker being caught, but the liklihood is they will make off. It's a horrible lesson to have to teach your children but it's not something you have to go on about, and it's also tempered with the fact that 'stranger abductions' are still statistically extremely rare, which is why decent people still find them shocking.
Like MCM I also worked in a control room for a while (as PC and Sergeant) both before and after the introduction of the automated system. It also coincided with the proliferation of mobile phones (yes, I'm that old!). MCM is right, the people slagging him off have no appreciation of the sheer volume of silent 999 calls that are received. The landline ones are easy to deal with, but the vast majority are from mobiles. I don't know if it's changed but it used to be that if a keypad was locked, the one button that stayed activated was the '9'. This guaranteed that a phone rattling about in a handbag or pocket would sooner or later dial 999 if it accidentally switched on. Before the automated system the call would be recieved by the BT operator and then passed to police control room. Each one would be listened to at length by the police operator and then referred to a supervisor (me) who would then listen in. We would have to make a judgement call based on what we could hear. Trust me, it is very hard to tell the difference between a phone banging around in a handbag and a violent struggle. If there was doubt then it was passed 'higher up' for an authorisation to obtain subscriber details. (More recently it requires RIPA authorisation). If this was obtained then the mobile phone company would be contacted and we would have to wait a long time for the details. Then, assuming the subscriber is registered, a unit would be despatched to the home address. This was obviously pointless as by definition the phone is out and about somewhere being jogged about. By the time we have frightened the life out of someone at home (parent of teenager out on the town?) we are no nearer finding out where the owner of the phone is. Sometimes we were lucky if the person in the house knew the number of someone the phone owner was with and a call could be made, but mostly they didn't.
Then it's another judgement call to see if 'cell site analysis' (triangulation)is justified and further authorisation is required. Then it's back to the phone company. After another long wait we would get an answer that would narrow it down to hundreds of yards or half a mile depending on various variables I don't understand (built up area, number and location of masts etc.).It's even more inaccurate if the phone is moving. It's not like the films and if anything I think that an inaccurate impression of how phone tracing works may have given Hannah false hope. I don't recall us ever locating someone purely based on the phone data but either way from the time of the original call the process takes HOURS and before we bought into the NSY system 50% of my time was spent dealing with these calls, with my eye being taken off the ball of 'real' incidents. I don't know enough about the Hannah Foster case to know if a human actually listened to the conversation nor how the automated system actually sorts the 'wheat from the chaff' but what I do know is that there is no way all silent 999 calls can be handled manually. You would need to double the size of the police force just to handle them, only to find .9% are 'genuine'. (And most of them are domestics where the caller had every opportunity to speak but chose not to 'for effect').
Another point to mention is that routinely tracing people via their phones is a serious breach of their civil liberties which is why there are so many checks and balances to ensure it is justified. It seems to me that the very same commenters who would happily have poilice doing it on a whim are the same people who fear a 'police state'.

02 December, 2008 12:51

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe but Mac's right - my keypad's locked but i can still dial 112 (France).

14 December, 2008 23:25

 
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