A SENIOR police official has controversially claimed the public should be charged 50p for dialling 999.
Tayside Police Federation secretary David Hamilton said a premium-rate emergency number would cut down on the volume of calls the force receives.
Mr Hamilton wrote on Twitter: “Maybe time to make ‘999’ a premium rate number?
“If a genuine emergency you’d spend 50p to report it. Phoneboxes exempt.”
But campaigners have hit out at Mr Hamilton’s “short sighted view” and said it will force the public to focus on the cost of their call rather than the emergency being reported.
On their website the Tayside Police Federation claim to “represent all 1200 Police Officers from Constable to Chief Inspector and also represent Special Constables in the Force”.
According to Mr Hamilton’s LinkedIn page he has been a police officer with Tayside Police for more than 16 years and currently holds the rank of Sergeant.
He is also a trustee of the Scottish Police Benevolent Fund.
Mr Hamilton defended his claim and said the 50p charge would stop people abusing the number in non-emergency situations.
He explained: “I used to work in a control room and the problem is getting worse and worse.
“If we were to charge premium rates people would be less likely to use 999 and then you would get people who only need it for real emergencies.
“You could charge 50p or 30p from mobile phones but I would leave phonebox calls free.
“People might say you can’t charge this as it’s a public service but control staff are getting tied up.
“My comments put the topic into the mix and it’s a way of doing something about it.
“We need big thinking on this as it’s a real problem.”
Tayside Joint Police Board figures show the force receives 50,000 emergency calls every year – around 136 every day.
Victim SupportScotland, a charity dedicated to helping people affected by crime, said that it would be a “tragedy” if Mr Hamilton’s wishes came true.
A spokesman said: “I understand what Mr Hamilton is saying about people abusing the 999 system, but it would be a tragedy if even one genuine caller was put off calling because of premium rate charges.
“Any proposal to charge people accessing the number have to be looked at very carefully indeed.”
But Councillor Alexander Stewart, a representative of Perth City South and a member of the Tayside Joint Police Board, said the idea of charging people is “dangerous”.
He said: “This is a short-sighted view by an individual and should be treated as such.
“People need someone instantly to talk to – not to be worrying about the cost of the call if they are on the line for 10 minutes.
“I am not in favour of it – there are lots of people who abuse the 999 service and I can understand the reasoning behind Mr Hamilton’s feelings.
“But the facility is there for people who have experienced and emergency or tragedy.
“It might be his personal views but because Mr Hamilton is the Tayside Police Federation secretary this can be quite dangerous and it grows arms and legs.”
Tayside Police claim they wish the number to remain free but also hinted a new non-emergency number would be introduced alongside the new single national force that starts in April this year.
A spokeswoman said: “The 999 emergency telephone number is a vital service and must remain free for every member of our communities to use.
“There are however instances when the 999 system is inappropriately used and we are addressing this by educating the public on its use.
“This coupled with the introduction of the single non-emergency number ‘101’ in the coming months should make it easier for the public to contact the police in the most appropriate way.”