It was just a few minutes to midnight and Emmanuel Nkundimana was asleep in his bedroom in Nyamirambo when he suddenly heard the sound of a window breaking followed by strange noises down the hall.
“At that moment, it befell me that I had been invaded but couldn’t scream because I feared for my life. Instantly, I picked up my phone and dialled 112,” Nkundimana recounted.
As the door to his bedroom was being knocked down, he was frantically asking for help and providing his physical address to the voice on the other line.
“Within five minutes, a police van had parked outside my house and the burglars who had stormed me in the middle of the night were arrested instantly while they were still in the process of looting my property.”
Had it not been for the simple 112 call he hurriedly made to the police, Nkudimana’s property and life would almost certainly have been in serious danger.
How is it that the police were able to react to Nkundimana’s call within just five minutes?
The system is on display inside the 112 call centre at the police Headquarters in Kacyiru. This is where police answer distress calls from citizens who use the toll free services by dialling 112 on their phone or 3112 for services in Kinyarwanda.
Ten officers are each equipped with a phone, a walkie-talkie and a computer program known as Top Technology which enables them to record the call data and also track down the caller.
“We have pickup vans that are standby for emergency. Whenever a call is made, an officer from the call centre alerts a commander on the ground, the commander orders two or more policemen to rush to the scene and help the caller,” Police Spokesman Eric Kayiranga said.
Kayiranga also clarified that the emergency call service is not just a Kigali luxury. All police stations in every village are connected to the call centre and the police are able to intervene in case of emergency in their villages.
Fortunately, when thieves invaded his house, Nkundimana knew about the 112 service. But based on an informal survey, it would seem that many Rwandans would have had to deal with the robbers the hard way because they are ignorant of the police toll free emergency call services.
Teddy, an accountant in Remera town confessed that she is unaware of the services because she has never seen anything advertising the numbers. “I rarely watch TV or listen to radio because of my busy schedule. Perhaps I miss the announcements,” said Teddy, who requested that her full names not be used.
Kayiranga said a public awareness program was conducted both in the city and in the villages through television, radio and community seminars to sensitize the public about this police service.
He added that a more stringent sensitization program is set to be carried out so that even the few people who are not aware of these services can get to know about them.
In contrast with Teddy, Vladimir Sutovsky, a general manager of an accessory store in Nyarugenge, was well aware of the service and was full of praise for the police.
“The police have done a commendable job in sensitizing the public about the toll free call services.
As the owner of a big accessory store in Kigali, I have known 112 for quite some time, just in case anything happens, I am always ready to call.”
The call centre archives showed that on a typical Wednesday, 2,724 calls were made to the call centre from midnight to 14.35hrs. Of those, 1,815 were answered in person and 909 were diverted to a recording device.
Amongst the answered calls, the police were able to send help to 11 callers whereas the rest were given advice on where to receive the nearest police or hospital services.
“The call centre works as a liaison between the citizens of Rwanda and the police services.
Sometimes when we are unable to intervene, we advise the callers to reach the nearest police stations or hospitals depending on their need,” Kayiranga explained.
Within one and half hours, from 2pm to 3:30pm, 253 calls had been made to the call centre and all of them had been answered. However, most of the callers needed advice rather than police intervention.
“Some of the calls we receive are simply nonsense calls whereby someone is just abusing us or just disturbing us.
So, the application software enables us to filter the important calls from the ludicrous ones so that we can avail services to the serious callers,” Kayiranga added.
For example, the call centre archive revealed an event that occurred on Tuesday. A lady named Angel from Muhima sector of Nyarugenge District called 112 at 2pm reporting that someone had been stabbed by an unknown assailant.
The police rushed to the scene and caught up with the assailant, arrested him and rushed the victim to the hospital.
“Our success story lies in the fact that we are able to serve and protect the citizens of our nation through the little resources we have, which is every Rwandan’s right to be accorded emergency services whenever they need them,” Kayiranga said.
“In the future, we want to beef up our police unit, increase the size of our call centre and human resources so that our services can be improved to attain international standards.”