Quarter of non-emergency 101 calls unanswered

Exclusive: Just over a quarter of calls to the police non-emergency number went unanswered last year, figures obtained by The Gazette show.

Photo of a police motorcycle speeding down a road © John Cameron

Freedom of Information requests reveal that in August, nearly 10,000 calls went unanswered, with callers waiting around six minutes on average before giving up.

Leicestershire Police, which covers Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, received more than 303,000 calls in a 12-month period, with 221,602 being answered.

Sanjay*, a father in Leicester, encountered some problems early last year when his neighbours started to smoke weed in their garden. He made multiple attempts to report the issue using the 101 helpline, but felt that they were redirecting him to the police website instead.

In his own words, “It seemed as though they were trying to fob me off and direct me to their website for logging complaints. When I open my window and the neighbours are smoking weed in their garden, the strong smell comes through. I can’t even use my own garden. Eventually, after persistently trying to reach them, the police took notice. They notified the council and dispatched someone to address the complaint. However, as soon as the neighbours realised who had reported them, they kicked off.”

He said he was frustrated he had to call several times, especially when people have other responsibilities in life, particularly raising young children.

Another resident, Nizam, said, “The wait times for 101 are quite long. I just tend to use 999 [the emergency number] instead, and then they will take the report, but tell me off and say to use 101 next time, which I'm more than happy to accept, but not if I have to call a few times to get through to someone.”

The time it took to answer calls fluctuated throughout the year, with some months being quicker than others. October was on par with August in terms of wait times. Calls that went through were typically answered in less than three minutes.

These statistics suggest that the issue lies with the ability of the police force to handle the volume of calls they receive, rather than with the speed at which they respond to those calls.

Unanswered calls create delayed responses to crimes and a loss of public trust in the police force.

Some pensioners and those with disabilities may struggle to report crimes online.

Rupert Matthews, police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, said he would be discussing the issue with the chief constable. He added: “I have asked for more information, as these figures do not make great reading. No one likes waiting for the phone to be answered, and I am determined that performance will improve.

Photo of Rupert Matthews taking a selfie in Market Harborough © Leicestershire OPCC

“An efficient, professional call handling service helps to improve confidence in the police. It is often the first point of contact for someone, and we must do everything we can to ensure that the caller receives a high standard of service.

“However, I understand that people do use other ways of getting in touch with Leicestershire Police if they can’t get through on 101 quickly, and these calls are included in the overall number of abandoned calls. I also recognise that there are times when the number of calls coming in far outweighs the expected demand. I will be asking the chief constable what can be done to alleviate the pressure on the system to drive up performance.”

Superintendent Steve Durrant from the force’s contact management centre said: “We acknowledge the number of abandoned calls is not where we would like it to be. However, we have to prioritise emergency calls into the force, and in line with policing generally, Leicestershire Police received approximately 34,000 more emergency calls this year than last. Call handlers answer both types of calls, and calls to 999 have to take priority.

“While people are waiting to speak to call handlers when calling 101, the phone system dynamically flexes with the operational demand and available handlers, and gives options to callers to leave a message to be called back or directs to report online during busy times. The number of people who then hang up to do this are included in the abandonment numbers and cannot be separated out as having contacted us elsewhere.

“Staffing in the control room is based on call demand data, however the demand on 999 calls can be subject to sudden, unforeseen spikes, following high demand incidents like a significant road traffic collision or major incident. This can put additional demand on the emergency number, which impacts the ability to answer non-emergency calls.

“We are currently recruiting for call handlers – anyone interested can apply through the force website.”

The police’s contact handler job advert was closed until recently, with it reopening after The Gazette had pointed out the scale of unanswered calls.

Where possible, people are encouraged to report non-emergencies on the Leicestershire Police website.

*Some names in this article have been changed to protect sources from retaliation.

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