Nuisance, trivial and prank calls made up nearly a quarter of calls to the Northern Territory’s emergency call centre in 2022, according to recent police data.
Statistics provided to The Epoch Times from the NT’s Joint Emergency Service Communication Centre (JESCC) show that 82,323 (22 percent) of the 379,559 calls made in 2022 were time-wasters.
One example of a time-waster, as reported by the ABC, was when a man called to get his license renewed, but was answered with: “This is triple-0, life and death emergency, not for a licence.”
While call times were not available, a spokesperson for the JESCC said in an email that since Jan. 1, approximately 78 percent of 131 444 calls were answered within 10 seconds, while nearly 65 percent of 000 calls were responded to within 10 seconds.
This comes as NT Police deal with increased crime across the territory with assault, theft, and property offences all up from the pandemic years.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker told reporters that it had been a busy time at the call centre.
“We’ve got great public support in that people are choosing to pick up the phone and report [crime],” he said.
“That’s seen [us receive] in excess of 100 calls for an incident.
“Notably, we do still have issues at the moment with people who misuse our service.
“We just simply ask, don’t make those vexatious calls. We appreciate that we are busy and we’re ultimately here to serve and protect the Northern Territory.”
Nuisance Calls Putting Lives At Risk
NT Police Association acting president Owen Blackwell said the high number of nuisance calls could put lives at risk.
“There’s only a finite number of call takers, and if they’re on a phone call with a frivolous complaint, then they’re not taking a serious one,” Blackwell said, reported the ABC.
“And that person may be in serious strife, and 30 to 40 seconds is a long time when you’re in trouble.”
Meanwhile, a JESCC spokesperson has urged the public to familiarise themselves with when and how to call 000 while reminding callers that holding up 000 call lines with non-urgent matters has the potential to delay a response to urgent incidents.
“This can result in loss of life or serious injury,” the spokesperson said.
This follows Chalker’s announcement of 13 new recruits, who said the new graduates would be responding to emergency calls across the territory.
“We are listening to the public, and we are giving our police the resources they need to fight crime and to respond to Territorians in need,” Chalker said.
“These new graduates will be performing a vital role in our emergency response as the first contact for callers in times of stress and worry.”
Improper Use of Emergency Call Service a Commonwealth Offence
Under section 474.18 of the Criminal Code Act, making a hoax call to an emergency call service is a Commonwealth offence and carries with it a penalty of three years imprisonment.
The same maximum penalty applies if a person makes a call to an emergency service number where it is deemed “vexatious.”
In this case, the determination as to whether the call is vexatious or not will be determined by the court through a number of factors, such as; the content of the call and how often the person has made the call other than for the purpose of reporting emergencies.
For example, in 2017, a 20-year-old New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) member was charged with making dozens of false emergency calls to 000, reported the ABC.
The RFS member was charged three counts of making a false call to an emergency services number and 11 counts of making vexatious calls to an emergency services number.
The man was alleged to have made 48 calls from pay phones and a mobile phone to 000, to report fictitious bushfires and car accidents in Medowie, Port Stephens in NSW.
Also in 2017, a multi-jurisdiction investigation between the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Northern Territory Police, Queensland Police and New South Wales Police resulted in the arrest of a 33-year-old man for multiple counts of misuse of an emergency call service.
It was alleged that the man made approximately 1862 calls to the New South Wales 000 service, according to the AFP. The nuisance calls were recorded in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia.
Following analysis of the calls and with the assistance of industry technical specialists, the calls were identified as originating in a remote community in the Northern Territory.
‘Significant’ Legitimate Calls in NT
Despite the number of illegitimate calls, Chalker said a “significant” amount of legitimate emergency calls were coming from Alice Springs, which is reportedly struggling with violence and crime.
“We certainly know it’s a significant number [of calls from Alice Springs] as a ratio compared to other parts of the Northern Territory,” he said.
“That’s not necessarily surprising given that Alice Springs is such a huge service hub for a whole part [of Central Australia].”
“Having our bush coppers have to answer the phones in their police stations, they would never get any respite,” he said.
“It is literally a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week type of operation.”