Peel Regional Police say about 40 per cent of calls to the region's 911 service are for non-emergency situations, which can leave some people seeking emergency assistance waiting on the phone.

Police spokesperson Tyler Bell-Morena said the number of calls to the region's emergency call centre rose to 644,000 in 2022 -- a new record he expects to be broken by the end of 2023.

Bell-Morena said nearly 40 per cent of the calls do not involve a situation where a life is in danger or a crime is being witnessed, which he says are the only acceptable reasons to call 911.

“Is somebody's life in danger? Is someone suffering significant injury? Is there a serious crime in progress or a fire? That's when we want people to call 911,” Bell-Morena said in an interview.

“If you've come home from vacation to find your vehicle has been stolen, for example, we don't want people calling 911 for that.”

Instead, a car theft victim should call a non-emergency police line, he said. Peel Regional Police's is 905-453-3311.

“If someone is actively stealing your vehicle in your driveway, you can call 911 for that.”

The region's 911 service handles police, fire and ambulance response in Brampton and Mississauga, Ont.

In one case last month, Bell-Morena said a Brampton family calling 911 to report an armed home invasion waited nearly four minutes to speak with an operator before abandoning the call and reaching police later.

He said the initial call was placed in an automated call queue, which the home invasion victims left before an operator could answer.

“No one's calling 911 (and) getting a call taker while screaming for help saying, 'Please hold.' That doesn't happen,” said Bell-Morena.

Police urge people who call 911 to stay on the line instead of hanging up and calling back, to avoid creating bottlenecks in the queue.

Bell-Morena said Peel police are working to hire more 911 call operators and educate the public about non-emergency police phone lines to address this issue of public safety.

“Our recruiting efforts are in full swing... we're actively trying to increase (call taker) numbers the best we can to keep up with the demand,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.