People calling police 101 number waiting longer as Covid takes toll on force

People calling the West Midlands Police non-emergency number were left waiting more than 11 minutes on average before getting an answer during July.

101 callers have been kept waiting
101 callers have been kept waiting

New figures showed the force's 101 performance has been getting gradually worse since March - with Covid and the 'pingdemic' taking its toll on the workforce.

At least five callers were waiting almost two and half hours before their call was connected since the start of the year. The target time for answering non-emergency calls is three minutes.

People are encouraged to call 101 to report low-level crime or if they need help from the police that is not an emergency, to ensure the 999 call handlers are free to respond to the most urgent calls. But many 101 calls end up being abandoned because callers become fed-up of waiting to be connected.

The average time for a call to be answered in July was 11 minutes and 16 seconds. That was up from nine minutes and 37 seconds in June, five minutes and 41 seconds in May and four minutes and 44 seconds in April.

The longest time taken to answer a call this year was two hours, 30 minutes and 49 seconds, the figures showed. Every month a caller was waiting over an hour, while in four months of 2021 so far it was more than two hours.

The figures released by West Midlands Police under the Freedom of Information Act only showed the single longest wait for each month.

The force said "unprecedented" 999 calls staff testing positive for Covid or having to isolate - dubbed the pingdemic - has left resources stretched over the last few months.

Chiefs also said the force had been inundated with 999 calls which were not emergencies - as they urged people to think before dialling the emergency number.

The latest figures come after just two in five calls to its 101 service within the target time of three minutes in June - resulting in the force giving itself a 'poor' rating.

Head of the Force Contact Centre, Chief Superintendent Rich Fisher, said: “The last three months have seen unprecedented 999 demand across all emergency services. At the same time we have had to manage the impact of staff testing positive or having to isolate through Track and Trace.

“Throughout this time we have sought many ways to maintain the best service we can in these difficult circumstances. We continually encourage the public to ensure they are contacting the right agencies to resolve their concerns.

“As seen this week we continue to receive calls that are either inappropriate and require no support, or calls which are better served by other agencies and do not have a police purpose or require a police response.

“Less than 30 per cent of 999 emergency calls translate into an emergency response, and over 75 per cent of all calls, including 101, are resolved at the first point of contact, many of which are by advising that the situation should be reported to another agency or that it is not a matter that requires a police response."

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