Fewer than one in three people nationwide know they can make a non-emergency call to the police using the 101 phone number, according to the “worrying” new findings of a survey by a Yorkshire crime commissioner.
The poll commissioned by North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan in response to local and national concerns about the 101 system, reveals that many people confuse it with other three-digit numbers such as 999 or the non-emergency health number 111.
Nationally, 12 per cent of people believe the non-emergency number is 911, the emergency services number in the US, a percentage a senior North Yorkshire Police officer believes is due the popularity of American ‘cop shows’.
Across England and Wales, only 30 per cent of respondents knew the correct number and understood when it should be used. The rate was higher in North Yorkshire, at 38 per cent.
The poll also revealed that one in seven people who called North Yorkshire Police’s own 101 service to make a report abandoned their call, with many waiting for more than a minute for it to be answered.
At ten per cent, the rate of abandoned calls in North Yorkshire for callers who have waited more than a minute is twice as high as the police’s own national target of five per cent. Despite this, three-quarters of local callers were either extremely satisfied or very satisfied with the call handler.
Launching a review in July, Mrs Mulligan said residents in North Yorkshire “told me loud and clear that they are unhappy with the 101 system”.
Around the same time, South Yorkshire’s police commissioner admitted his local 101 system was inadequate for people wanting to report crime after it emerged that callers were being left waiting as long as 40 minutes to get an answer.
Mrs Mulligan said today: “The 101 number was introduced to help people report incidents to their local force easily and to reduce pressure on the 999 emergency line. So three years after its launch, it’s worrying that awareness of the number is so low.
“However, with the Home Office reviewing the service, these new insights couldn’t have come at a better time and will hopefully highlight the need to raise awareness of the number and understanding of when to use it.”
She added: “Another major worry is that one in seven people ringing the 101 abandon their call. Locally, that’s around 2,800 calls per month – most likely due to the time it takes for their call to be answered.”
The report, based on research amongst 1,001 adults across England and Wales, including 300 people in North Yorkshire, will be available on the PCC’s website from today and will be discussed at a scrutiny meeting next week.
Responding to the survey, Chief Superintendent Amanda Oliver of North Yorkshire Police said: “It is heartening that this latest survey shows that North Yorkshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to awareness of 101, but it is still clear that we need to take every opportunity we possibly can to remind people of the 101 non-emergency number and when to use it.
“It is interesting that a percentage of people think that 911 – the American emergency services number – is the number to call for a non-urgent situation, which is probably down to US cop shows on TV.
“It shows how powerful these things can be, and just how hard we need to work to get 101 recognised against a background of so many other conflicting messages.”