Nine out of ten 999 calls to Derbyshire Police were answered last year within 15 seconds and in an average of eight seconds. But a steady decline in the number of non-emergency 101 callers answered within 60 seconds was “not a good enough service,” the county’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa said yesterday. (Monday, March 21).
Last November the percentage of 101 calls answered within 60 seconds had fallen to around half (or around 50%) compared to over 90% in January 2015.
Answering times for the non-emergency number dropped steeply following the introduction of new telephony systems, the implementation of which has been beset with technological problems and failures. Unhappy to hear that incoming calls could not be answered due to software and hardware problems, the PCC Alan Charles has already called upon the suppliers to identify the issues and deliver a solution rapidly.
Deputy PCC Hardyal Dhindsa (chairing the Commissioners Strategic Governance Board) heard how these technical glitches are exacerbating an already problematic area of service delivery.
Speaking at the meeting, he asked to see swift corrective action and requested an update to be reported back to the Board in three months’ time - which will be presented to the next elected PCC following the May 5 elections.
The Deputy Commissioner commented: “Call-answering times have dropped and the public don’t care why that has happened, they just want – and deserve – a better service. I understand that there are valid reasons causing the delays and that the new systems are designed to deliver a more inclusive, efficient service, but the current situation needs addressing.”
He went on: “It is absolutely imperative for public confidence that they can contact the police by telephone if and when they wish.” This, he said, was why he was asking for an update report on remedial action within three months.
Assistant Chief Constable Karl Smethem last week apologised to non-emergency callers for the longer than usual waiting times, assuring the public that work was underway to resolve the situation.
Graphs presented to Mr Dhindsa and the Board members also showed that the abandonment rate for non-emergency calls had risen from around 2% in January 2015 to 22% in December, and the average call wait time had risen from under 20 seconds last January to over 140 seconds in November, falling to around 125 seconds in December.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon’s report named a number of factors that had influenced the recent changes in performance. These included an unexpectedly high level of staff vacancies and the recent introduction of a new way of assessing calls for threat harm and risk. This new system manages officer deployments more effectively but has resulted in calls taking longer to be dealt with.
Other factors included a three-month temporary move of the Contact Management Department to allow for building works along with upgrades in IT and telephony at the Ripley site, and subsequent issues with new telephony when the Force Contact Centre’s returned to the new combined Force Operations Room.
The last three to six months had been “an extremely challenging period” for the department regarding how quickly non-emergency calls could be answered. But, the Board was told, the introduction of an automated switchboard function will provide a more efficient and effective response to members of the public calling the force. Ten new members of staff have also been recently recruited, with 20 more staff to join them in May and September.
The time taken by the Constabulary in answering calls has been an issue for Commissioner Charles for some time. He said some years ago: “Being efficient and effective not only instils trust and confidence in the organisation, it also reduces wastage of resources in the complaint handling process.”
At that time, regular training and development days were held for first line supervisors with the aim of improving customer service. A tougher approach to repeat and nuisance callers was also adopted by the force, with more taken to court to deter other hoax calls.
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Posted on Tuesday 22nd March 2016