FRESH statistics show almost seven in ten people dealing the police non-emergency number in South Yorkshire get their call answered within two minutes, as controversy over performance of the force’s telephone lines continues.
The figure rises to 83 per cent when the deadline is extended to three minutes, though the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings has insisted the objective is to improve on those results.
Questions continue over the way the Atlas Court call centre performs, with Rotherham Coun Stuart Sansome, vice chairman of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, the body which holds Dr Billings to account, arguing that callers who end their calls in frustration after waiting for an answer are not counted in those figures.
It has also emerged the ‘clock’ only starts after callers have heard taped messages, adding more than a minute for those holding the receiver.
Coun Sansome argued that while he could not challenge the accuracy of figures produced by South Yorkshire Police, the feedback he and council colleagues got from the public painted a different picture.
He said he had ‘no wish to challenge the legitimacy’ of the figures provided at a meeting of the panel, but added: “I feel they are false figures.”
That is because they do not include abandoned calls and he suggested a ‘call back’ system, used at busy times to allow callers to leave details for a return call later, should be extended to a 24 hour option.
“The only way to get trust and confidence back is to have a system which works without abandoning calls,” he said.
According to police, call abandonment rates are down by ten per cent recently.
Dr Billings told the meeting on an average day South Yorkshire Police take 2,383 telephone calls, with 759 on the 999 system, where the average wait for an answer is 13 seconds.
The average wait for the rest is eight minutes, but the bulk of calls are answered much more promptly.
Performance has been helped by the installation of a new £12m computerised call handling system, but Dr Billings conceded the real issue was demand from callers, with the force now trying to weed out unnecessary calls, by allowing contact through other electronic means and trying to educate the public around unsuitable calls to police, such as those who ring to query why take-away food has not been delivered.
“That doesn’t mean it is wholly satisfactory but it may be a lot better than some people think,” said Dr Billings.
More features are expected to be added to the 101 system in the New Year, allowing callers who know who they need to speak to the option of bypassing call handlers.
An internal review of the way Atlas Court operates is also in progress and should put forwards recommendations to improve efficiency.
Coun Sansome called for the Police and Crime Panel to be involved in the scrutiny of those proposals.
Colin Beeks, Head of Communications for South Yorkshire Police, said: “We can assure the public that if you call the police in a genuine emergency, your call will always be answered and prioritised. The average wait time for 999 calls is currently 13 seconds we are here for you around the clock, 365 days a year.
“Those who call us in a non-emergency will regrettably face a longer wait as we must direct our resources where they are needed most urgently.
“A review of Atlas Court, where 999 and 101 calls are handled, is currently underway. The findings will be considered, options for change will be put forward and then preferred options will be developed into a full business case in due course thereafter.
“In the meantime, we are trialling a number of different measures to optimise our resources and manage demand,” he said.
- Provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.