AS the old saying goes, if you want to know the time ask a policeman.
But it seems the boys in blue need a bit of a helping hand, and have spent thousands of pounds on phoning the Speaking Clock and directory inquiries.
Officers from Lothian and Borders Police racked up a £8800 phone bill dialling services such as 118 118 and spent another £950 on phoning 123.
They made nearly 3000 calls to the Speaking Clock between 2009 and the end of last year.
And despite having access to the advanced Police National Computer database, thousands of calls were made to premium line directory inquiries to source phone numbers.
Calls from landlines totalled £5000 and calls from mobiles £3700.
Police chiefs at Fettes – which faces the Fettes College clock tower – were quick to highlight that no 123 calls were made from mobile phones, all of which have time displays.
Police chiefs were today urged to ensure all officers have a working watch to avoid further costs to taxpayers, along with a list of the cheapest directory enquiry numbers.
Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the Lothian and Borders Police Board, which funds the force, told the Evening News: “I appreciate that in some cases officers may need to get a number urgently and using directory inquiries might be the quickest way to do that.
“I would hope officers are sensitive to the cost of the service and perhaps the force should give them some guidance on which is the most accurate and cheapest service.
“I’m a bit more concerned about dialling the Speaking Clock. Occasionally that will be needed, but most offices will have a clock on the wall and, over time, it would be cheaper.
“You would hope that given the adage ‘if you want to know the time ask a policeman’, officers would have watches and that they are fairly accurately set at the start of their shift.”
Despite the advent of laptops and mobiles, the Speaking Clock – now called Timeline – still receives more than 30 million calls each year.
Introduced in London in 1936 and rolled out nationwide in 1942, the service initially cost one penny, rising to 31p today.
Last year, the Evening News told how council staff had been spending more than £24,000 a year on calling the Speaking Clock and other costly phone lines, described as “strange” and “unnecessary” by councillors.
Police chiefs explained that 123 is sometimes dialled to check police systems are in working order and are accurately set.
A spokesman added that dialling directory inquiries is sometimes necessary when working on cases.
He said: “During operational duties, members of the force may require a telephone number urgently but do not have immediate access to a computer terminal. In these instances, they will utilise directory inquiries.
“Lothian and Borders Police is committed to responsible expenditure and the Telephony Unit has worked diligently to ensure any calls made to these services are done at the cheapest rate available.”