For the vast majority of us, calling the police is a thankfully rare occurrence. You might say the Police are the insurance policy we hope we never have to cash-in.
Yet when we do, we expect a prompt response – and so we should given the amount we contribute through taxation.
That seems a reasonable statement to me and one which the Constabulary would support. I know this because the Chief Constable and his officers are committed to making every contact with the pubic count and that building trust with our communities is enshrined in my Police and Crime Plan.
So, why is contacting the police sometimes so difficult? And don’t think it’s just a Gloucestershire problem. Any Police & Crime Commissioner will tell you dissatisfaction with 101 is near the top of their complaints and that more often than not, it’s about the time it takes the police to answer the phone.
Last year, my office looked into the efficiency of the Constabulary’s control room and identified many of the reasons calls went unanswered. Last week, Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services came to the same conclusion. “Force Control Rooms are in danger of being overwhelmed by the ever rising and increasingly more complex demands they face,” he said. Exactly what we found.
Most contact comes through the 999 and 101 numbers. A cause for confusion in itself and the Chief Constable and I agree the system needs to be simpler.
What you may not know is that 101 was originally set up, not just for the police but for calls to other organisations that deal with health, social care, housing and environmental services. However, as their funding was cut, so they withdrew, leaving the police to front it all. No surprise then that with 999 the priority, 101 goes unanswered for longer leaving callers frustrated and handlers demoralised.
Our study also revealed that many calls to 101 relate to mental health care issues, missing people and just about everything in between. No surprise either that calls to the police increase rapidly after 5 pm and at weekends when the more relevant organisations have shut. That’s not intended as a slight on them, just a recognition that the Police never close.
The public sector response to Covid-19, based around partnership working, has been magnificent. Surely, it’s time to utilise that lesson in other areas.