The Crime Prevention Website


In 2014 Norfolk Constabulary reminded their local community about when they should use 999 to call the police.  To highlight the problem they tweeted examples of 999 misuse. 

Here’s some examples of their #999Misuse tweets

  • Call from a restaurant in #Yarmouth about a declined card payment – not something we can deal with as an emergency #999Misuse
  • What would you do if you forgot the conditions of your ASBO? A Watton man has tonight dialled 999 to check #HeadInHands #999Misuse
  • Interesting start to the shift…999 call from a man reporting a seagull with a broken wing on his balcony…advised 2 call RSPCA/vet #999Misuse

Norfolk police’s top five 999 misuse calls are:

  • 1. Using 999 for routine 101 inquiries
  • 2. Misuse of 999 under influence of alcohol
  • 3. Calling 999 due to missing last train or bus home and asking police officers for a lift
  • 4. Dialling 999 to ask for the nearest late night chemists
  • 5. Children playing with phones and accidentally ringing 999

Police all round the country have this problem with more than 50% of 999 calls being classed as misuse. The main problem caused by 999 misuse is that these calls delay the police’s response to calls that really do require an urgent response  

So when should you use 999?

Only when there is a direct and immediate threat to life or property or if a crime is in progress. Here are some examples:

  • Someone is using or threatening to use violence
  • There is a danger to life
  • Serious damage is being or could be caused to a property
  • You know your neighbour is on holiday and you can see a torch being used inside their house
  • A potential criminal has been disturbed or apprehended
  • A road traffic collision has occurred where someone is hurt and/or a danger is being caused to other road users

On all other occasions the public should call the police on 101.  Remember too that calls to 101 are answered in order.  If you call during peak times, usually 10:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 18:00 you might find yourself in a queue.  If you hang up and then ring back you’ll find yourself at the end of the queue again, so try not to do it!

Here’s some examples of when to use 101

  • Straightforward routine enquiries
  • You arrive home from holiday and discover you’ve been burgled and the burglars are long gone
  • You go out to the car in the morning and discover that a window has been broken during the night and the glove compartment has been rifled
  • The elderly neighbour across the road tells you that they’ve suffered a theft by cold callers purporting to be builders the previous day

Help the police help you by only using 999 in an emergency

Some more interesting stuff about 999 (and other numbers)

The ‘999’ emergency telephone service began in London in 1937 and in the first week was used 1,000 times!

The ‘999’ emergency service was set up in order that the telephone operators could identify emergency calls. This followed the death of five people during a fire at a doctor’s surgery in 1935 when a telephone call for the fire brigade’s assistance was not answered by the operators.

A government committee was set up in order to oversee the introduction of the new emergency number in the hope that such a service would save lives, which it did and continues to do so. The committee first considered ‘707’ as this corresponded to the letters ‘SOS’ on the phone dials. However, ‘999’ was eventually chosen, because it was a number that could easily be dialled on the old rotary dials in the dark or in a smoke filled room.  

Although Glasgow followed suit in 1938 full introduction of the service was delayed by the second-world-war with the rest of the country following in 1948

Here’s a few more facts:

  • ‘999’ is the world’s oldest emergency telephone number
  • On average there are 560,000 ‘999’ calls made each week
  • 97% of calls are answered within 5 seconds
  • 62% of calls are made from mobile phones
  • 35% of calls are not emergency calls for help
  • Midnight on Friday and Saturday are the peak times for ‘999’ calls
  • The busiest time of the year for emergency calls is just after midnight on New Year’s Day
  • 19 Other countries use ‘999’ including: Ireland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago and Zimbabwe
  • These days ‘112’ can also be dialled instead of 999, even from a locked mobile phone

Updated June 2015, July 2017