An "irresponsible" police advert has been banned after viewers complained it could discourage people not to call 999 if they think a child is being abused. The television advert from Surrey Police featured a phone next to a sofa and the sound of a baby or young child crying through the wall.
Text then appears on screen saying "Hello, Surrey Police 999 emergency. My neighbour's kids are being noisy" with the last word alternating between "noisy" and "abused".
The advert was meant to remind people that not all non-emergency calls warrant calling police and complaints of noisy neighbours should be made to the council.
The campaign was launched after Surrey Police said within a 12-month period, more than 10,000 of the calls that they received were for matters that did not require the officers to be involved.
The text adds: "When it is a policing matter Surrey Police will be there for you. Think twice. Is your call a policing matter?"
The advert was investigated by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) following a complaint that noise from children next door could be due to them being in a harmful situation, such as witnessing domestic violence or their carers being incapacitated, and it was irresponsible to suggest viewers should make their own decision about whether police involvement was necessary.
The ASA ruled that the advert does evoke an "ambiguous scenario" which it appears to suggest that someone should not call police if they were uncertain if a child was at risk of harm.
An ASA spokesperson said: "While we noted that the situation depicted in the ad was commonplace and in the vast majority of cases, the sound of a young child crying would not be indicative of any abuse or neglect taking place, there was also a chance that a child was at risk.
"The ad evoked an ambiguous scenario in which an individual might feel an instinctive anxiety about what they were hearing, despite there not being any other factors to indicate harm taking place.
"We considered that the ad was likely to be understood as discouraging viewers from reporting problems to the police unless they were certain of what was taking place. Given the specific example used and the potential outcomes of failing to report suspected child abuse, we concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible."
The ASA ruled that the video must not be shown again in its current form and told Surrey Police they must ensure all future adverts must not imply that viewers should avoid calling the police in situations where an individual could be at risk of harm.
Surrey Police said they are "really disappointed" by the decision.
Deputy chief constable Gavin Stephens added: "Surrey Police has made sustained efforts to increase both awareness of, and confidence to report child abuse.
"This particular campaign is centred around helping educate the public about what is and isn't a policing matter. Clearly child abuse is, whereas children just being noisy isn't.
"We need to ensure that the public is contacting us about concerns for safety but knows that general noise complaints are better dealt with by local authorities so that police time isn't wasted and we can instead use that time to keep people safe and investigate crime."