Last week Cambridgeshire Police announced the launch of a new confidential number to report drink driving.
My view is that creating yet another phone number to contact the police on is misguided and unhelpful. I attend many public meetings at which policing matters are discussed confusion surrounding how best to contact the police is often a top matter discussed. I am favour of the simple:
- 101 for all non-emergency contact.
- 999 for emergencies where life is in danger or a serious crime is in progress.
In addition I understand the need for, and support the existence of, the work of the charity CrimeStoppers who provide an independent route for making anonymous reports of crime to the police via their number:
- 0800 555 111
Personally when I’ve called the police anonymously I’ve used a phone box. (I’ve opted to do on this on occasion when reporting illegal and dangerous use of motor vehicles by children on on the streets near where I live, because I found that making reports in person resulted in the police visiting, and causing a nuisance to, me rather than than tackling those committing offenses which put their and others’ lives in danger.)
In some limited circumstances I can see that officers giving out individual mobile numbers might be desirable, (eg. it has worked well where I live on Halloween) however in general I’m not keen on this and think contact via 101 is preferable and the contact details more enduring.
The New Drink Driving Number
It is not clear to me what role the new confidential number to report drink driving is to play. Neither the ECops announcements or the force web page on the number explain what the difference is between using the number and calling 101 but not giving your name.
If the new number if being advertised, as it is, as “confidential” I think the police ought be clear about on what basis this assurance of confidentiality can be given. Where are calls to the number directed? If they are answered by the police are staff trained not to request personal information from the caller, and trained not to record any identifying information inadvertently given? Are there technical measures in place to ensure the police cannot access the number the call was made from?
I have searched the Police Authority website and cannot find any evidence they have discussed or approved the introduction of the new number, or the protocols, procedures and contracts surrounding its use. I think the Police Authority should have ensured they were consulted, and ought to have vetoed the creation of the new number.
My view is that while the recent, and ongoing, anti drink-driving campaign is excellent, it should have encouraged the use of the existing ways to contact the police and not involved the creation of a new number. Cambridgeshire police have changed their contact phone a number of times recently, I think they should stick to 101/999 as these will hopefully prove possible to maintain in the long term.
The police say the new number is being piloted for three months. I think this shows how silly the exercise is, people write down and record contact numbers and keep them, they are printed on material which often outlasts the numbers, for example I had a Cambridgeshire Police promotional magnet on my fridge for years containing one of their previous non-emergency numbers, when I came to want to use it the number was dead.