Should a police emergency number act like a call centre?

I had the very frustrating experience of calling the police control room late on Thursday evening and finding out that it did not really function as an emergency number.

My reason to call the control room was this: Outside the Government Hospital for Women and Children in Egmore, next to the Government Museum, a man had been apparently hit by a Swaraj Mazda lorry, and he lay on the road without any help. Several onlookers were there, and two persons were directing traffic away from the man lying with only feeble movements on the road, hit head appearing to have suffered an injury in the accident.

Since there was no police presence around (this spot is 500 metres from the Chennai City Police Commissioner’s office on the same road), I immediately dialled the control room from my mobile phone, although I was in a bus on the move.

The response was as follows: a recorded voice answered, advising me that I could disconnect if I had dialled the number in error, as it was the police emergency number. This is a bad practice because someone who dials just three numbers, 100 or 103 knows what he is doing. No one dials 911 in the US without a reason, and every child knows what it stands for.

Back to my call, I was advised by the recorded voice to next dial 1, if I wanted to reach the control room. This is really foolish, because if you dialling from a mobile phone, you must have the knowledge that you must send the single digit as a DTMF pulse, after choosing options. How many average mobile phone users will be able to do that, from a wide cross-section of users, I wonder.

Even more important, why should someone in an emergency, including a medical emergency for that matter, be asked to go through this rigmarole just to reach help? But then, Indians are not the best people to handle emergencies, as we all know. Their fatalistic psychology is such that they believe the worst will happen whether or not you do your best, if it is a matter of fate. It is no surprise that many Indians seal the fate of their fellow Indians with this kind of attitude.

In the United States, the mainstream media keep track of how their emergency services are responding to calls. If a police department fails to respond to a call in reasonable time, that is a scandal. Bad tempered or indifferent personnel handling 911 calls are hauled up by newspapers and television channels.

Our mainstream media is of course, too busy chasing actresses, oomph girls and other assorted trivia to devote their attention to these concerns. It is a race to the bottom in Indian journalism in general and broadsheet newspapers are competing with tabloids and superficial, contrived television in this area.

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