THE SCALE of the ongoing problems surrounding West Yorkshire Police’s 101 non-emergency service have been revealed after new figures came to light.
They detail escalating call waiting times which drove almost one in 10 people ringing to report criminal behaviour to give up before anyone answers.
The average time spent waiting in 2015/16 was 154 seconds – a rise of 1,000 per cent on the time of just 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 in Wakefield.
But the force today said it was making considerable progress in getting the issue under control, despite a wider backdrop of rising demand for its services.
Figures for November show the average call time had 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 service are no different, and 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 placed under increasing pressure, with record levels of calls received during the summer.
Despite this pressure, 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 [the 101 service] 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 we need the report ASAP and 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 cuts to budgets had meant staff reductions.
Within six months, the decision was reversed and call handler numbers were returned to the original level of 185. But 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.”
The issues experienced at West Yorkshire Police have been mirrored at other forces, including West Midlands Police. Neighbouring South Yorkshire was forced to call upon West Yorkshire for support when IT issues blighted its system this year.
In North Yorkshire, the average time to answer a 101 call has risen since 2014, though the worst monthly figure in July this year, where the average call took one minute 37 to answer, was still better than for West Yorkshire Police.