THE SCALE of the problems surrounding West Yorkshire Police’s 101 non-emergency service have been revealed.
New figures detail escalating call waiting times which drove almost one in 10 people ringing to report criminality to give up before anyone answered.
The average time spent waiting in 2015/16 was 154 seconds – a rise of 1,000 per cent on the 14 seconds in 2013/14. And one caller was kept in the queue for 49 minutes before getting through to staff at the force’s customer contact centre.
But the force today said it was making considerable progress, despite a wider backdrop of rising demand for its services.
Figures for November show the average call time has now fallen to 98 seconds.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom said: “As recently as this week there have been reports in the media of the pressures being faced by the health service and other public services. The police are no different. We are working hard to both save money and deliver a good service to our communities.”
A report had been due before West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel yesterday, but was pulled at the last minute as it was incomplete. It followed questions in September about declining public satisfaction with the force and an admission that frustrated 101 callers were turning to 999 to get a response.
The 999 number itself has also been under increasing pressure, with record levels of calls during the summer.
Despite this, a policy of prioritising 999 calls means the average call to that number is answered in just 5.2 seconds.
South Elmsall councillor Steve Tulley, who sits on the police and crime panel, said: “In my area 101 is pretty much non-existent and we have to call 999.
“One person’s incident is another person’s emergency, and if you are totally frustrated by not getting anyone on 101, I don’t know what people are supposed to do. If I had been on 101 for 49 minutes I would call 999.
“Whatever happens they need to get their act together on 101. From where I sit, it is just not working.”
The force said its 101 response times had been among the best in the country in 2013/14 but government funding cuts had meant staff reductions.
Within six months, the decision was reversed and call handler numbers were returned to the original level of 185.
However, maintaining these numbers was proving a challenge due to high staff turnover.
Around 90 staff members leave each year, with the vast majority taking up other roles in the force such as becoming police officers or PCSOs.
A police spokeswoman said: “At the present time 45 per cent of our customer contact centre staff have less than a year’s service. We have 187 call takers with further recruitment planned for the New Year.”
Soaring numbers of 999 calls compounded the problems with the 101 number this summer.
A record 5,432 calls, including 1,789 calls to 999, were placed on July 22.
Later that month the force said it was receiving more than 1,000 extra 999 calls a day compared to 2015.
Call handlers are moved off from taking 101 calls whenever there is above average 999 demand, which in turn means 101 callers are kept waiting longer.
The centre was staffed to handle around 4,000 calls per day when recruitment of a further 46 handlers was announced in September.