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'Unacceptable' three-hour wait for police to answer 101 call

By Jack Averty | Crime | Published:

West Midlands Police took more than three hours to answer a 101 call last year, new figures show.

West Midlands Police did not say why it took them so long to answer a 101 call

The force, which received fewer non-emergency calls last year than in the past five years, took three hours, ten minutes and 33 seconds to answer one call in 2018/19.

It today described the wait as "unacceptable" and said "an exceptionally high number of calls" on the day in question caused the delay. More staff have also been taken on to tackle the issue.

The figures, released through a Freedom of Information request, also show it took the force nearly 10 minutes to answer one 999 call.

Last year West Midlands Police fielded 780,684 101 calls, a significant reduction on the 1.25 million in 2014/15. The highest number of calls came in 2016/17 with nearly 1.5m.

Over the same period, the number of 999 calls has increased. The force answered 566,647 in 2014/15 but that figure has risen to 758,747 last year.

West Midlands Police's head of force contact, chief superintendent Richard Fisher, said the case of the three-hour wait happened on Sunday, June 3, 2018, when there were an "exceptionally high number of calls" to the force's emergency and non-emergency numbers.

He said: "Where this is the case we have to prioritise 999 calls.

Anomaly

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“Although for the non-emergency call, this is clearly an unacceptable amount of time to wait to reach us, this must be taken in the context of the 1.2 million non-emergency calls we take each year, where our average answer time is approximately two minutes 30 seconds.

"We therefore consider this to be an anomaly as it only usually takes up to a maximum of 11 minutes to reach us on an average day.

“Since June 2018, we have recruited more force contact staff to deal with the number of calls coming through to us and have launched our Live Chat facility on our website which is available from 8am to midnight daily and have increased our online reporting system, helping to reduce the demand on our 101 number and offering the public a wider of range of more accessible ways of reporting to us at their convenience."

Public 'fed up at creaking 101 line'

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The public are becoming increasingly fed up and are losing confidence in 101 non emergency lines, a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has warned.

There has been a sharp drop in the use of the service across England and Wales over the past year.

Much of that is down to calls not being answered within an acceptable limit, according to officials.

Figures published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services show that in 2018 there were just over 22 million calls made to the 101 number. But that figure was down by almost 675,000 on the previous 12 months, a fall of three per cent.

Concern nationally comes as figures reveal one 101 call in the West Midlands took more than three hours to answer.

The figures for the West Midlands came from an FOI request by Liberal Democrat activists in the region. They also show that 7,727 999 calls and 154,529 101 calls were abandoned by the caller in the West Midlands last year, although both those figures are an improvement on the year before.

'Deeply alarming'

West Midlands Lib Dem campaigner Leyla Abbes said: “People do not expect to call police and be kept waiting. People are hanging on, in some cases for hours and then giving up on 101.

"What’s deeply alarming is the number of calls that are still being abandoned. We are in the midst of a knife crime epidemic and my worry is people in desperate need are not getting through to help.

"When it can take up to 10 minutes in an emergency to get to speak to someone you would feel utterly betrayed by those who are there to help.

The 101 system was introduced across the country in 2012 in a bid to make the police more accessible to local people.

Unlike 999 calls, the 101 system is not free, with people being charged 15p to speak to an operator.

But the system has had mixed success with many people complaining that the waiting times are unacceptable.

Matt Parr, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said the figures suggested people were “losing confidence” in the 101 system.

He said: “We do our own survey of public perceptions and we think the reason 101 calls have been going down is because the public are getting fed up waiting for someone to answer it and so they call 999 instead, which they have more confidence in.”

The HMIC inspection covered 14 force areas, with some performing worse than others when it came to maintaining confidence in the 101 system.

In the West Midlands area, England’s second largest force, calls to 101 were down almost 12 per cent, a drop of 178,422, while 999 calls were up almost 8,000 year on year.

Baroness Newlove, the victims’ commissioner, who has demanded a review of the ailing service, said the public was being let down by 101.

She said: “The finding from HMICFRS very much echoes what I have been hearing from victims when I have been travelling around the country. I have heard stories of victims hanging on for 40 minutes or longer before they get a response. Others have just given up or, out of frustration, they escalate to 999.

“Victims also tell me they use the line to report issues and then nothing happens. And yet they expected to pay for might seem to be a pointless exercise.

“I want to see the line properly resourced to offer a swift response, to be free of charge and that victims see follow up action.”

Jack Averty

By Jack Averty
Senior Reporter - @javerty_star

Reporter with the Express & Star, based at head office in Wolverhampton

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