Force control rooms could be manned by students living in the North during summer months as North Yorkshire Police drafts in extra call handlers to keep up with demand for its 101 and 999 services.
New figures released by the force reveal that the number of calls to its emergency and non-emergency numbers have reduced, following an “unprecedented” rise last year.
The average time taken to answer calls to its 999 emergency number more than doubled from 2015 to 2017 between the months of May to September as the volume of calls rose significantly.
For the 101 service, used to report non-urgent issues to police, the number of calls received and the time taken to answer also increased during the same period.
Now, a report prepared ahead of a meeting of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel on Thursday has revealed more than 60 extra control room staff will have been trained by the force by February to keep up with the growing demand of both 101 and 999 calls. And there are also plans to recruit students living in York next summer into its control room to keep pace with an anticipated rise in calls over the summer months, the report adds.
Chief Inspector Charlotte Bloxham, the head of the force control room, said students provide a “flexible and cost-effective solution” and have been successfully employed by other forces in control rooms.
It comes after members of the police and crime panel last year called for the 101 service to be reviewed following a raft of criticism.
“We plan to recruit students to provide resilience during anticipated increases in demand, such as during the summer, weekends and New Year,” Chief Insp Bloxham said.
“They provide a flexible and cost-effective solution to a constantly changing environment and have been successfully employed by other forces in their control rooms.
“The role provides interesting and well-paid student work and an alternative to the usual shop and bar work. It will also give them experience that will stand students in good stead for their future careers, particularly if they want to go into law enforcement or related occupations.”
She said students would only be recruited to perform operator and call handler roles, not as the more-specialised dispatcher role.
“Graduates already form a large contingent of our control room staff; however, we will also be recruiting from the wider community,” Chief Insp Bloxham said.
Police control rooms across the country saw an unprecedented increase in demand for 999 and 101 services last year, and North Yorkshire experienced a significant drop in call answering times.
However, the force has recently introduced a number of changes to improve the services. They include the Queue Buster call-back service in August last year, which gives callers the option to request a call-back rather than waiting on the line.
Since its introduction, the report to Thursday’s meeting said nearly 3,000 call-backs have been requested and they were made in an average time of seven minutes and 29 seconds. However, during its first two days, two callers had to wait 30 minutes and 27 minutes respectively for a call back.
Meanwhile, the policing operation in Kirby Misperton dealing with anti-fracking protests has required two dedicated dispatchers from the control room since demonstrations began in the village last year, the report said.