DEVON and Cornwall’s top cop has urged people to look out for each other this Christmas as the force prepares to deal with a drastic rise in calls.
In his Christmas message to the public, Chief Constable Shawn Sawyer said he wanted people to enjoy the festive season safely.
He noted how incidents of domestic violence increase during the run up to Christmas and New Year, along with drink driving, missing people and a variety of alcohol-related crimes.
He said: “Basically, our message is ‘Please look out for each other’ while we’re looking out for you – by which I mean the public and emergency services.”
Chief Constable Sawyer said he recently met with the chief executive of Plymouth City Council to talk about safety and emphasised that there had been planning by the authority and the emergency services for its response to the seasonal issues.
However, with cuts biting across the board, he was keen to stress the public had to play its part.
He said: “We can’t be there all the time and many of the things we’re called to are pretty avoidable.”
He said missing persons reports around this time of year soaked up resources, but noted how some were just people who got separated from their friends after a night out drinking.
“It’s like lifeboats – many people get into difficulty because of a lack of thought or preparation.
“The best crime prevention is by the public themselves. We work with Neighbourhood Watch, Horse Watch, Marine Watch, Community Watch – it is about people watching out for each other.
“It’s a universal concept. Just because it’s old fashioned, it doesn’t mean it’s not right. It’s about knowing your neighbours and I think it still exists down here [in the South West].
“Sometimes Plymouth as a community really rock with young and old people side by side, such as the British Fireworks Championships on the Hoe. I think community cohesion really works in places like Plymouth.”
With a reduction in the policing budget, he said it was important to “manage down demand” on services or risk becoming “just a crisis organisation”.
One such concern was children receiving mobile phones for Christmas. Chief Constable Sawyer said it was “incumbent” on parents to be up to speed on what their children could and couldn’t access online.
“It’s about being aware. We have seven year olds with phones because parents want them to be physically safe, but are they being socially safe? We will see them on their first day back to school with their brand new phones, wanting to show them off.
“All the services want you to have fun and be safe this Christmas, but you can make things easier by keeping yourself safe.”
TURKEY AND TOILET ROLL: WEIRD AND WORRYING 999 CALLS
POLICE would rather not get calls from people asking how to defrost a turkey or where to get toilet rolls this Christmas.
These calls, and other strange ones, are annually dealt with by the force's patient call handlers.
However Chief Supt Jim Nye, commander of operations for the force area, hopes people will think hard before making such frivolous calls.
Chief Supt Nye said the force received around one million calls last year, of which around 220,000 were 999 calls and the remaining calls on the non-emergency 101 line.
December 25, 2012 saw handlers deal with 531 999 calls and 721 non-emergency 101 calls, while December 31 2012 saw 541 999 calls and around 1,400 101 calls. However, by January 1, 2013 the numbers had jumped to 1,142 separate 999 calls and more than 1,500 101 calls.
Chief Supt Nye said the calls were a huge demand on police and customer service surveys showed 85 percent of callers where satisfied with the response they received.
However, he urged people help reduce the demand on stretched services by thinking whether the incident was truly an emergency, a non-emergency, or something partner agencies should deal with.
He also encouraged people to refer to the Devon and Cornwall Police website first for guidance.
He said: “If a crime is taking place, offenders are nearby, or life is at risk, call 999. If you are unsure and ring 101 the call can be upgraded to the emergency number if the call handler feels it should.
“Our staff are very professional and are trained to deal with these different calls.
“Some people phone 999 just to be abusive, others are emotional. Our call handlers will take time to try and deal with them using their training and experience.”
Matt Harding, a police call handler for more than five years and said the volume of calls during the festive season, particularly on New Years Eve, added pressure to the force.
He said: “You have very little time in between calls. You continue to do the research that’s required to make sure everyone’s safe.
“It’s inevitable many calls are alcohol related. You have people calling saying their unhappy they’ve been asked to leave a club and door staff won’t let them in. You’re trying to talk sense into them, which at the best of times is hard, but when it’s a drunk person it’s even harder.”