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If you have ever wanted to call the police about something important, but known it was not an emergency, then the 101 number could be your answer.

To help the police handle your call in a better more efficient way, 101 is now the single non-emergency number across England and Wales.

The scheme has been tried and tested by a number of police forces since 2006 as a new number to accompany the emergency 999. In February 2010 the Home Office asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to look into adopting 101 as a single national non-emergency number, in place of lots of different public numbers across police forces. There was broad support for the initiative and the rest, as they say, is history.

Having just two phone numbers can improve the public experience and make the service more efficient. 101 can be used to raise local policing issues, get advice or report crime that has already taken place. It can help screen out inappropriate calls to the emergency 999 number and help the police respond to genuine emergencies at greater speed.

In short, 999 is for when a crime is happening, when someone suspected of a crime is nearby, or where someone is injured, being threatened or in danger. For all other matters, 101 is the single number to call.

Calls to 101 from landlines and mobile networks cost 15 pence per call, no matter what time of day or how long a call lasts. It’s available 24/7 and a call, no matter where it’s from, will be transferred directly to the control room of the local police force. In that way the information goes directly to where it needs to go. It doesn’t mean a non-emergency call will receive a lower priority than if it came through on the 999 number. We should aim to act on the information we receive quickly.

The point of first contact with the public is a vital area for the police as it has such an impact on the way we are perceived as a service. We need the public to help us cut crime – and that means they need to feel any public enquiry, emergency or not, is dealt with appropriately, efficiently and politely. It’s about providing a professional quality of service, being able to identify risk and vulnerability and effectively prioritising and responding to calls. Huge effort has been put into this area across the police service in recent years and call handlers are trained to a high standard. 101 should help us take those standards of service even higher.

To find out more about 101 log on to the website.

So when should you call 101?

Do call 101:

  • if your car has been stolen
  • if your property has been damaged
  • where you suspect drug use or dealing
  • if you want to report a minor traffic collision
  • if you want to give the police information about crime in your area
  • you can call 101 if you simply want to talk to your local police officer.

Call 999 when it’s an emergency:

  • a crime is in progress
  • someone suspected of a crime is nearby
  • when there is danger to life
  • when violence is being used or threatened.

Instead of calling the police, try calling your local council about the following:

  • reporting graffiti
  • abandoned vehicles
  • dumping and fly tipping
  • vandalism.

Commander Ian Dyson of the City of London Police is the ACPO lead for Contact Management.