Force getting a handle on issues with non-emergency phone calls

West Yorkshire Police has been recruiting call handlers at unprecedented levels.
West Yorkshire Police has been recruiting call handlers at unprecedented levels.

Yorkshire’s largest police force is making significant progress in turning around “embarrassing” problems with its handling of non-emergency calls, according to a senior officer.

West Yorkshire Police said it had been recruiting call handlers at an unprecedented rate as it sought to respond to the record levels of demand faced by its customer contact centre.

A report presented to the county’s police and crime panel yesterday said there had been dramatic reductions in the number of people abandoning calls to the 101 number while they waited in the queue. But it was accepted that there was still more work to be done, particularly in changing the public’s perception of the non-emergency number.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle told panel members: “Last year our abandon rate was an embarrassing 17 per cent. The average queue time was between three and four minutes. We’re not proud of that.

“As we are now, it’s eight per cent against the Home Office target of five per cent, which I think I’m right in saying nobody achieves yet.”

The report by Tom Donohoe, head of the customer contact centre, said the abandoned rate for 101 calls had been 6.6 per cent in January, with the average queue time as low as three seconds and public satisfaction rates of 94.5 per cent for ease of contact.

He said: “We have been recruiting at a pace we have never attempted before and this is starting to yield benefits, but the unit still have 70 staff with less than 12 months service.”

Even with a high number of new staff, the public satisfaction rate for ability of call handler stood at 95.6 per cent. And the force’s 999 performance has also improved despite an 8.8 per cent increase year-on-year in calls.

Mr Andy Battle said: “There are fewer police officers, fewer PCSOs and an increase in demand.

“We’ve talked about things like the increase in missing people which, when they are called into us, are long calls. People are ringing up for a five, 15 or 20 minute call. We’re getting not only an increase in demand, but also the complexity of the calls.”

During the peak period for demand last summer, the contact centre received more than 1,000 additional calls per day.

The report said this peaked at 5,600 calls in a single day, levels not seen even on traditionally busy days such as New Year’s Eve.

Panel member Coun Amanda Carter said it was clear that the contact centre was under a lot of pressure but she was still getting a lot of complaints from people in her ward in Leeds.

“People say I’m not going to bother calling it,” she said. “They just get a local PCSO or call us, so you’re right. There is a problem with perception. It’s improved a lot but there’s still this six per cent abandon rate.”

Police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “Despite some of the improvements that are reported, I do accept there’s still a perception gap between what the public think, probably, and what’s contained in this report.”

Later this month, a new “state-of-the-art” call handling system is due to be installed at customer contact centre in Wakefield.

The meeting heard it will give real-time updates to help better manage resources and monitor trends in demand.

Mr Battle said: “As other public sector organisations are closing their resources for the day, that all falls into our hands.”

He said one measure being taken was to change shift patterns and further recruitment was planned ahead of the anticipated summer peak.