Police call service is ‘dire’


Police minister Nathi Mthethwa must increase police responsiveness to citizens’ needs, says the official opposition.

The vital 10111 service will be upgraded in the Western Cape, as soon as humanly possible, says WC minister of community safety, Dan Plato.

He says he will apply pressure for this to happen since political researcher Gareth van Onselen this week revealed that more than one in three calls made to South African police stations are not answered.

Van Onselen said there are 1 116 police stations listed on the South African Police Services (SAPS) Web site with one or more telephone numbers.
“In an attempt to assess how responsive and accessible the police are – that is, the level of customer service one can expect on calling the numbers – I undertook to phone every station. As a result, I can reveal that 35% of all calls placed went either unanswered or to a wrong number.”

His report shows that of the 1 116 stations listed, 63% answered calls, 27.2% did not answer, 2.1% had one of two or more numbers that were not working, and 7.7% had the incorrect numbers listed. This brings the total number of unanswered calls to 388 or 35%.

All calls took place on 4 May and 21 May 2012 and were placed between 11:30am and 8:45pm, with the bulk between 12pm and 5pm.

Profound consequences
“In order for a call to qualify as unanswered, I let it ring for a minimum of 15 times. The result of the survey is deeply disturbing and goes straight to the heart of the nature of customer service, as provided by the government in general and the SAPS in particular. It is dire. That more than one out of three police stations cannot be immediately reached is cause for serious concern and should be investigated by the minister.”

Van Onselen added that having 85 numbers that do not work is an indictment either of the SAPS Web site, which needs to be updated, or the police stations themselves, which do not have working numbers.
“Eighty-five stations might only represent 8% of the total, but between them they service thousands of people and, if they do not have working central numbers, the public is obviously unable to contact them; worse still, to contact them in an emergency. There can be profound, real-life consequences to this kind of poor information.”

Errant stations

Plato says he will investigate the matter, personally visit every WC station involved, and then submit a full report to the police commissioner as this situation raises cause for concern.
“Answering a call from the public is the least that can be expected of the SAPS. This is simply not good enough.
“Given that the Western Cape 10111 call centre is experiencing capacity constraints and is in need of upgrading, it is disconcerting to know that local station numbers are not reliable either. While we wait for this crucial infrastructure upgrade, it is essential that local police station numbers are correctly listed, and answered.”

In terms of his oversight role over the police, Plato says he will make sure the errant stations are put back on track and he will continue to apply pressure to have the vital 10111 service upgraded as soon as humanly possible.

Safety threat

Democratic Alliance shadow minister of police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, says police minister Nathi Mthethwa must account for the findings.
“This undermines the fight against crime and threatens the safety and wellbeing of citizens and communities, especially during an emergency when people are in urgent need of help.”

The shadow minister adds that Mthethwa must commit himself to improving the safety and wellbeing of all South Africans by increasing police responsiveness to citizens’ needs.

Unreliable response

The implementation of 112, as a single national emergency number, has been on the cards for several years, but the project has been cancelled and restarted several times.

On its Web site, the Department of Communications in April said it is looking for a suitable service provider to render the emergency entities. This comes after the pilot call centre reportedly cost R80 million, and was stuck in pilot mode for more than four years. The due date for the proposals was 18 May.

Currently, the recognised public emergency numbers in SA are 10111, 10177 and 112 for mobile phones.

Emergency Medical Services had called for the implementation of a centralised emergency number (112), because responses from the 10111 centres were delayed and not always reliable.

Call centre response has been acknowledged as being so poor that the ministry of police took to handing out cellphone numbers of police officials last year.

Millions of rands went into the 10111 emergency centres, which overspent their budgets, according to Mthethwa.

In response to a DA parliamentary question in 2009, the minister of police revealed the nationwide average response time to calls made to these centres is 42 minutes.