A Democratic Alliance (DA) survey has found that more than one-third of the phone numbers advertised for South African police stations do not work. The party says it will submit a list of the problematic numbers to the national police commissioner and ask that he ensures that the matter is resolved in time for the festive season.
“Being able to rely on contacting your local police station when you need to is very important,” says MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, who shadows police minister Nathi Mthethwa.
“South Africans need a police service that is reliable and efficient in the service they provide, so for one-third of police station phone numbers not to work is significantly disempowering to ordinary South Africans.
“And, of course, it is particularly necessary that ordinary police station numbers work, given the generally unreliable nature of our 10111 emergency services – we must recall, in particular, that the Auditor-General reported earlier this year that more than 50 000 calls to 10111 were dropped while waiting in call queues in 2008.”
A recent rainstorm also knocked out the lines to Gauteng’s R600 million 10111 centre in Midrand for several hours.
“Our survey was conducted by making 270 phone calls to South African police stations (10 randomly selected police stations per province were each called on three occasions). To test the consistency with which staff were available, each number was dialled on a different day and at a different time of day: morning (between 8am and midday), afternoon (between midday and 4.30pm) and evening (between 4.30pm and 7pm).
“The survey found that in 35.9% of instances (97 of 270 calls) dialing the numbers publicly advertised for a South African police station did not take the caller through to an officer at that police station.”
19 calls were to numbers that were not in operation or did not exist;
11 calls were to the wrong number;
one number (three calls) went to a fax machine;
18 had a busy tone – indicating either that the number was not in use, or that the police station’s front desk was unable to handle multiple calls simultaneously.
46 calls went unanswered, indicating either that the phone number was not connected to the police station’s front desk, or that no-one was attending to the front desk.
In most of these instances the call was automatically disconnected after an extended period of no answer. In many instances, all three calls to a particular station went unanswered, indicating that the number was possibly not connected to any particular handset.
Kohler Barnard says the least reliable provinces are the Northern Cape and the North West.
“In the Northern Cape 17 of 30 (57%) calls failed to go through, and in the North West only one of the ten stations was available on all three occasions they were phoned – several numbers appear to have been left unanswered for protracted periods of time, while some numbers actually appear to have been physically disconnected for parts of the day.
“The situation was also concerning in Limpopo, where only four of the ten stations picked up every call, and in Gauteng, where only half of the stations were available on all three occasions.
“In many cases we have no doubt that a station front desk’s phone number has simply changed without the relevant authorities being notified, and the number being corrected on publicly distributed contact sheets.
“In other words, a fairly simple audit can help significantly to address the problem.”
Pic: A police constable maninng the Gauteng 10111 centre in Midrand