Series 4 of 999 What’s Your Emergency started this week following emergency call handlers, police and the ambulance service in Wiltshire. This is a quality Channel 4 documentary full of revealing interviews and profound fly on the wall moments. The people on camera are witty and funny, sometimes fairly unintentionally. While yelling at someone dishing out racist abuse one restaurant owner shouts “You’ve got more chance of getting a kebab off the Queen than me!” Guys, never be rude to someone in charge of you food.
Channel 4 have earned something of a name for themselves with stylish documentaries that really get to the heart of the action and put a human face on the righteous, the pathetic and the despicable. We meet extremely memorable characters, even if they only have a few minutes screen time.
A call to the police (I hope it wasn’t to 999 because it’s hardly an emergency) sees PC Dan Lane dispatched to follow up on a report of man masturbating in his back garden. This is a crime apparently, which I had not realised, so apologies to the people who live at numbers 28 and 30 in my street. I can’t believe the voice-over guy kept a straight face when saying PC Lane was off “to look more closely at the matter in hand”. Turns out there had been zero al fresco wanking going on, but there was serious tension between one house in the street and their new foreign neighbours.
This episode deals with racially aggravated hate crimes, which have depressingly been on the rise since the Brexit vote stoked sad little dissatisfied morons who previously had managed to keep their prejudice hidden. We saw amazing justifications and perverse rationalizations for bad behavior. “I’m not racist” assures one keyboard warrior, arrested for targeting a couple with racist messages on Facebook “I have a black dog”. You what mate? Say that again because I must have heard you wrong. Even during interrogation he had such little regard for the people he’d targeted; seemingly at random and doing it for his own entertainment – to “wind her up”. The saddest story was the aggressive drunk woman abusing a shop owner (all caught on CCTV). She said “I’m not racist. I have a mixed race child”. How unutterably awful. The follow-up piece at the end tells us that her children no longer live with her.
None of these people are master criminals, but it is frightening to see how extensive these problems are and that they’re increasing . There’s been a 40% increase in hate crimes reported in Swindon since the Brexit vote. And name calling really affects people. We meet a 9-year-old girl who is sad that some other children called her the n-word. She knows it’s nasty but doesn’t know what it means, so she goes to tell her Dad who broke down and cried.
The Wiltshire teams seem to have embraced 999 What’s Your Emergency as an opportunity to better inform the public about what they do, what they have to put up with, and teach them not to abuse 999. The Swindon Advertiser says the Assistant Chief Constable is up for it, and John Flynn, head of contact management (whatever that is) , said: “My first reaction to the programme was wow what a fantastic opportunity, we have to make this happen. The people in our call room are ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.” Here here. After episode 1 aired The Wiltshire Times reported that it tarnished Swindon’s image, but I can’t say I’d ever given that town much thought before this programme, and probably won’t again. If people like this are keeping the populace in line, it can’t really be such a bad place.
999 What’s Your Emergency is on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 4. Catch up with episodes from series 2,3 and 4 online.