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June 19th, 2017 by


While many aspects of the trial of Henri van Breda has caught the public’s attention, one of these is the emergency call he made.

Many people have criticised the emergency line operator for not being hasty enough.

This has shone light on a pervasive concern of many South Africans; the efficiency of our emergency and police response services.

But besides the anecdotal evidence and horror stories we hear, what is the state of emergency response times in the country?

We look at the statistics to get a better picture.

 

Artboard 1 - Police Response Time in SA: How Bad Is It and What Can You Do?

The State of Response Times

When compared with countries like the United States or other developed countries, South African response services are no match.

According to IJR.com, the reported national average for police response times in America is 11 minutes.

It’s a different story for us.

StatsSA released their Victims of Crime Survey results earlier this year. These statistics rely on perceptions South African households have regarding crime and police services in the country.

While the possibility of some subjectivity is present, it is a valuable measure to see how long people have said they have to wait for police to arrive at the scene of an incident.

Nationally, respondents who provided a time frame said that police typically take over two hours to respond.

The second highest number of households said police took an average of between 30 minutes and an hour.

Most households didn’t provide a timeframe, however.

For those who did though, the picture they paint isn’t great.

You can see the figures for responses below:

Time taken Number of respondents
Less than 30 minutes 2 029 (12.9%)
30 mins – 1 hour 2 542 (15.6%)
1-2 hours 1 878 (11.95%)
Over 2 hours 2 602 (16.6%)
Never arrive 592 (3.8%)
Unspecified 6 058 (38.6%)

 

The survey also showed that the leading reason nationally for dissatisfaction with police services was “They don’t respond on time”.

In terms of being satisfied with police services, response time was not the leading factor for households. Rather, they are happy with police arriving at the scene, police commitment, trustworthiness and arrests. Responding on time was only the fifth highest reason for satisfaction with services.

What Affects Response Times?

A major element affecting response times is the priority of the emergency. Generally, police will take longer to respond to an incident that is already over.

Meanwhile, crimes that are in progress are treated with higher priority. This means that police will prioritise responding to someone trying to break into your home over you calling to report a break-in where the criminal has fled.

In terms of the Van Breda call, you can hear a change in the operator’s haste once it is mentioned that people were attacked.

The call also highlighted concerns over pranks. Unfortunately for emergency line operators, tens of thousands of prank calls are made during the course of the year. As a result, operators ask for more information instead of immediately dispatching a unit.

Other factors that weigh in on response times are your distance from the nearest unit, as well as whether emergency services are easily able to locate you.

This means that distant rural areas and places with no street names or landmarks will typically see slower response times. This is true even in countries with quicker response times.

South African responders also have the obstacles of limited personnel (such as police units and call operators), less advanced technology, heightened potential for language barriers due to local linguistic diversity and other challenges.

Even peak traffic is increasingly affecting response times, especially in congested cities like Cape Town which have limited emergency lanes and space.

There are, however, some steps you can take during your call to try to ensure the quickest response possible.

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Round Button1 - Police Response Time in SA: How Bad Is It and What Can You Do?

What To Do During An Emergency Call

The first step when making an emergency call is to quickly explain the nature of the incident, give your name and number, and give an accurate address.

According to Arrive Alive, an accurate address is extremely important. Callers need to know local landmarks and will have to potentially agree to meet responders at one to direct them.

This is especially important in townships and newly built estates, as emergency services often do not have these roads mapped.

ER24 provided Arrive Alive with some guidelines for callers.

“A caller should first state their name and surname and identify that they would like to log an emergency call such as an accident, heart attack etc. The second most important thing would be to provide your contact number in case the line gets disconnected. The emergency call taker can then contact the caller back”, ER24 told Arrive Alive.

“The caller should state clearly where the incident is and give as much information about the location as possible.”

You need to speak calmly and clearly to communicate this.

Handy Tip: When spelling out a street name for an operator, use words for letters that may be misheard (a spelling alphabet). For example, you can specify letters by saying things like “D for duck, B for bird, E for elephant”, etc.

While these steps can help speed up the response time, they cannot account for delays out of the responders’ control.

However speedy communication does save precious time.

  • Ashley Crookes

    …and I’ve been waiting for a year, yep, 1 whole year so far for my local stocktheft unit to arrive after I repeatedly tried to report the theft of some of our sheep so multiple people using multiple phone numbers, sms’s etc. Yet I have the cops arriving every month to “check in” and get their free can of coke from my poor soft hearted father who believes we should keep in the police’s good books. Phone the police for help? I wouldn’t waste my airtime or my breathe!

  • Julian Burger

    I have tried calling the emergency number 10111 on three consecutive tries with no answer at all. I then called the Milnerton Police Station as the incident was in their jurisdiction. After the second try, the constable who answered tried to connect me to appropriate person. After a few minutes, she said that the person is not answering the call and that there is nothing further she can do and hung up. When the Milnerton Police Station was visited to make a case, I received a case number and no further response from the police. After reporting this incident to all senior offices in Cape Town and Pretoria including our mayor’s office, a captain visited me for a statement and mentioned that there is a shortage of staff at the Pinelands 10111 offices. The Captain of the Milnerton Police station mentioned that he will take the matter further with his staff and then after three weeks mentioned that the case number will be closed as the incident was not in their jurisdiction. Now nine months later, no further contact from any police service. So if the police do respond, consider yourself fortunate in this country