Seven hours of police time is being spent every day dealing with a rising number of hoax calls in Northern Ireland, it can be revealed.
The PSNI receives thousands of hoax calls every year which demand hours of time to rule out the possibility of someone needing assistance.
There has been a 14% rise over the last two years, at a time when PSNI numbers stand at 6,746 officers supported by 2,426 staff.
The Patten review of policing recommended a minimum of 7,500 officers.
The number of calls varies from month to month, from 313 last November, to 277 in December and 300 in January, according to a response to a freedom of information request by PA.
Across the 2018/19 financial year, the PSNI received 3,599 hoax calls, an increase of 5% from 2017/18, which in turn had seen a rise of 8% from 2016/17.
The PSNI received more than 901,000 calls in the 2018/19 year from the 999 emergency number (199,000) and the 101 non-emergency number (701,000).
A team of 300 police staff and officers receive the calls at three contact centres across Northern Ireland.
Chief Inspector Gerard Pollock of the PSNI’s Contact Management Branch said the equivalent of seven hours a day is spent responding to hoax calls.
Examples include someone calling to falsely claim someone is in need of help, but they do not include callers who have made a genuine mistake in asking for police help.
“It is roughly 10 hoax calls a day that we are responding to,” he told PA.
Mr Pollock said the time spent on the calls impacts the ability of police to respond to genuine demand, and results in members of the public having to wait longer for assistance.
Over the last four years police have submitted 117 reports to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over hoax calls. This number also includes hoax calls to other emergency services.
Mr Pollock stressed the seriousness of the impact of hoax calls.
“Whenever a person makes a hoax call on 999 then a genuine caller in need of assistance can’t get through on 999,” he said.
“Our call handlers are going from call to call so that means a genuine caller cannot get through whilst they are dealing with a hoax call.
“The second impact is in communities where officers on patrol are then responding to and dealing with those hoax calls to confirm that someone is not in distress or in need of our assistance, and that means that that is time that can’t be spent patrolling communities, providing reassurance and responding to real emergencies.”