Are Calls To The Police About Ghosts Wasting Police Time?

In 1977 when single mother Peggy Hodgson first witnessed strange noises and furniture seeming to move on its own she called the police. One of the constables that responded to her call witnessed a chair slide across the floor but ‘could not determine the cause of the movement.’[1] The incident would later become part of the Enfield Poltergeist case in which numerous eyewitnesses reported strange incidents that they could not explain. 

Ordinary people witness really weird things all of the time and sometimes they call the Police. There is nothing out of the ordinary for people who are scared and confused to call the Emergency Services, yet Nigel Rabbitts, chair of Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, said it had “continually raised concerns about demand versus resources”, the need for “investment and training of staff who take the calls” and managing the public’s expectations. He told the BBC that “there should be a public debate as to what the public see as a priority, how resources should be distributed and what percentage of calls for service should be screened out.”[2]

Many acquaintances of mine have scoffed at the recent BBC news articles (here and here) about the calls that police services have received in recent years about things like witches, ghosts, aliens and more. I would like to challenge them to leave their skepticism and non-belief at the door for one moment and consider how frightening it can be to witness something weird that you, in that moment, cannot fathom. I do not agree that these calls are a waste of resources or that they justify a public debate regarding what is and isn’t a priority for the Police Service to respond to. It isn’t the place of the general public to decide this due to a general lack of specialist training and awareness in these circumstances.

For many people it can be terrifying to experience something scary and strange and it is little wonder that they reach for the phone and call the Police. I often joke at Skeptics in the Pub talks about having developed the super-human ability to run through pitch black rooms without hitting the furniture, but there have been some occasions when I have been besides myself with fright.

Putting yourself in the position of the eyewitness makes it easy to see why some people would reach out to the Police for help, especially if they do not have anybody else to help them and, personally, I’d rather someone contacted the Police instead of local ghost hunters. They have a better chance of finding the right solution with the Police than they do with pseudo-scientific ghost hobbyists who will tell them all manner of incorrect things…

…especially if their strange experience is actually a symptom of other problems.

I’ve written in detail the ethical problems caused by ghost hunters who come into contact with vulnerable people without considering the impact their irrational behaviour and practices can have upon that person. I’m not suggesting for a moment that every single eye-witness who says they’ve witnessed something peculiar can fall into the vulnerable categories in my post (see link above) but it is a safe bet that a number of people who report these things can. Often people who display paranoid or irrational thoughts require medical attention that (hopefully) the Police would be able to organise.

The Chief Executive of the mental health charity Sane, Marjorie Wallace, said:

“In our experience it is absolutely essential that mental health services and police communicate, as it can be very difficult for the police to know what to do when a person expresses thoughts or fears which may lead them to feel abnormally threatened or distressed.” [3]

So, when people have the knee-jerk reaction that people are “wasting police time” by calling the Police about ghosts, monsters, witches and so on they might want to step back and consider the bigger picture first. Are Forty-eight calls to the Thames Valley Police between 2010 and 2013 such a drain on resources?[3] Are Thirty-five calls to the Devon and Cornwall Police between 2010 – 2013 such a drain on resources?[2] That’s a dozen or so potentially vulnerable people a year calling the police for help because they’re scared and confused and need help or assistance.

As a tax payer I am totally cool with that. I’d suggest that instead of there being a public debate about how the police prioritise these calls perhaps we ought to be discussing how the police respond to these calls and whether or not they are treating vulnerable people in a way that benefits them and their needs instead. Now THAT I am skeptical of…

[1] Joe Nickell“Enfield Poltergeist, Investigative Files”,  August 2012. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
[2] Chris Ellis “Alien and witchcraft calls to Devon and Cornwall Police”July 2014, BBC News
[3] Linda Serck “Thames Valley Police Receive Calls About Witchcraft And Aliens“, July 2014, BBC News
About Hayley Stevens 434 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

1 Comment on Are Calls To The Police About Ghosts Wasting Police Time?

  1. The Police are damned if they do nothing and the ‘ghost’ turns out to be a prowler or worse. The issue is giving the Police the knowledge, training and time they need to deal sympathetically with the situation while the correct person/organisation is contacted to professionally deal with the problem, assuming it is not a clear Police matter, i.e. doctor, ambulance, social worker, etc. or if a very minor problem a relative/friend/neighbour.

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