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Powerless police - Cops have no tools to punish prank callers

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 1:00 AMCorey Robinson

The absence of legislation to allow for the prosecution of persons who clog up emergency lines with prank and inappropriate calls is being cited as a major challenge by the police who are struggling to deal with this challenge.

Head of the Police Control Centre Superintendent Gary Francis reported two weeks ago that his staff is bogged down with some 18,000 prank calls each day, preventing them from responding to genuine calls for help.

This has been a long-standing challenge for the police force and the Jamaica Fire Brigade, but according to Inspector Dahlia Garrick, head of the Corporate Communications Unit, the police can only urge persons to stop this practice as tracking down offenders is not yet backed by law.

"That will definitely have to do with a whole legislative change. We need a framework supported by legislation.

"There is nothing to allow you to take criminal action against anyone like that. As it is now, we can only act within the remits of the law," said Garrick.

"If we could take punitive action then it would go a far way," added Garrick, as she set her sights on pranksters who are particularly disrespectful, and persons who misuse the emergency numbers for directory assistance, or to ask for the addresses of fast food restaurants and department stores.

Garrick said that in response to the concerns at the Police Control Centre her office has doubled its efforts in a public-education campaign against the practice of prank calls to emergency lines.

"We have started to engage our public-education drive to educate the public, and we will be going on an all-out social-media campaign in support of this, in terms of making it an interaction with the school resource officers," said Garrick.

 

PUNITIVE ACTION

 

Emelio Ebanks, public relations officer at the Jamaica Fire Brigade, agreed with Garrick that punitive action would help in curtailing the distasteful practice, but added that a public-education campaign launched in 2009 has resulted in a decrease in the number of prank calls.

He noted that the fire service received 2,003 malicious or prank calls, but this has declined steadily and last year was down to 1,319.

"What we have been doing is a lot of public education. Almost everywhere that we go to, we try to instill in persons the ills of calling an emergency number when you don't have an emergency," said Ebanks.

"We have been going into the schools, the workplaces, and the communities just educating the public as to why they should not call the emergency numbers without an emergency, and what can happen as a result of that," added Ebanks.