Phones go unanswered at third of police stations

2012-05-28 00:00

IF you had an emergency and tried calling your local police station by dialling the number provided by the police, you would stand chance of one in three of not reaching them, a new survey shows.

While Pietermaritzburg fared well in the survey — only the Plessislaer telephone remained unanswered — the Durban area did not.

Telephones at police stations in Pinetown, Inanda, KwaDabeka, KwaMashu, Kwandengezi, Lamontville, Tongaat, Umbilo, Umlazi, Verulam and Wentworth went unanswered.

On the South Coast and inland areas of KwaZulu-Natal, telephones went unanswered at Port Shepstone, Port Edward, Himeville and Umzimkhulu, while the numbers given for Harding, Underberg and Donnybrook did not exist.

Phones rang unanswered at Eshowe, Hlobane, Hluhluwe, Mkuze, Nongoma, Richards Bay and Ulundi.

Political analyst Gareth van Onselen called each of the 1 116 telephone numbers for police stations listed on the SA PoliceService website. About 63% of police stations answered the call, but in 35% of the cases, the police could not be reached. The report, in which every police station’s performance can be traced, will be published on the website today.

For a call to be listed as unanswered, the phone was left to ring at least 15 times. And not only the remote police stations’ calls were ringing unanswered .

Point, Bayview and Bellair in Durban, Plessislaer in Pietermaritzburg and othr KZN centres like Pinetown, Port Shepstone and Eshowe did not answer their phones.

Possibly the most worrying of the survey’s findings shows 7,7% of the listed police station numbers to be just plain wrong. “The listed numbers for 85 police stations, serving thousands of people, are either non-existent or belong to someone else — mostly businesses or private homes,” Van Onselen said.

In fact, he spoke to some very irritated citizens who receive many misdirected calls on police matters — any time of the night or day.

Richmond, Colenso and Madadeni are some KZN centres for which contact numbers are listed incorrectly.

All the calls were placed over two days, either the fourth or the 21st of May, between 11.30 am and 8.45 pm, with the bulk between midday and 5 pm.

Asked for comment, the provincial SAPS spokesperson, Colonel Jay Naicker, referred The Witness to the national SAPS department, saying it was responsible for the website. Naicker said accurate numbers were available locally via telephone directories, police liaison groups and the local media.

When The Witness sent the data to national police spokesperson Brigadier Lindela Mashigo for comment on Friday evening, he said it would be impossible for the police to verify the survey’s findings over the weekend. A normal working day would be required for the police to test the information before they commented on it.

Van Onselen believes the data shows a worrying trend. “The situation is dire. There are two sets of numbers it can be argued South African citizens rely on, often as a matter of life and death, for quick and immediate response: those for public hospitals and police stations.

“That more than one out of three police stations cannot be immediately reached is cause for serious concern,” he said.

Although Van Onselen’s day job is with the Democratic Alliance, this exercise was done in his personal capacity and he paid for it.

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