Officers say they receive more than 500 fake calls every day

Little children call up. So do those unhappy with their mobile connections. Sometimes, inebriated men call up for a laugh in the night, while mobile shops call up to show customers that the phone is working.

This is not your ordinary call centre. This is the every day scene at the Mangalore City Police Control room, where an operator – who mans five phones – answers calls dialled to 100.

Its primary objective is to be the first responder to a call, and to coordinate between different police stations. However, with more than 500 fake calls a day, operators working in three shifts have their hands and ears full.

Hardly half a minute goes by without a call, with most turning out to be false or prank calls. Operators said this has become all the more obtrusive during a crisis – that is, after an accident or communal tensions or election time – when the control room is flooded with genuine calls.

“During holidays we get more than thousand fake calls. As we can’t even ignore one call, it impedes on other genuine callers,” says an operator. He estimated that around 70 per cent of the calls received at the centre are false.

Children form a bulk of this, and the calls peak during the summer holidays when they call up for a “chat” or “to talk about their school problems”, says another operator. During the visit to the control room, the correspondent overheard the incoherent blabber of a small child.

“Many children get a kick out of hearing ‘Namaste, sir. Police Control Room’. Some just want to show their friends that they can talk to the police or have a laugh by reporting false fires or murders. We call up the parents in the evening to warn them or to discipline the child,” says an officer manning the centre. He rues that often the parents themselves encourage children to call the control room to “keep them busy”.

Another problem, said the operators, was that calls to toll-free numbers of phone companies – such as 1000 or 10016 – are routed to the police control room. “The callers scream at us about recharges, or accuse us of lying when we say wrong number. Numerous complaints to mobile operators have not rectified this,” said an official at the room.

What is also shocking is that mobile phone salesmen and repairmen use the toll-free number to test connection. It is no wonder that the operators are chalk full of stories about callers — from drunk callers asking for a lift back home and citizens asking for a dog catcher to migrant workers asking them to be connected to a village in Jharkhand.

“One girl had called up continuously through the day till 1 a.m. All she did was laugh on the phone. We obtained details from the phone company and sent the police over to Ajjavar, Sullia. Turns out that the parents of a mentally-challenged girl had given her phone to keep her busy,” said the operator. Often the operators ask the phone companies to block the SIM of troublesome callers.

Having their ears full through the day, operators suggest that by putting a cap to the number of free calls that can be made per mobile number, or to impose a ban on issuing SIM cards to troublesome callers, the number of fake calls can be controlled. “Else, it’s madness and chaos during the summer holidays,” said an operator.

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