Three out of five calls received by Lancashire Police are not logged – because the force concludes that they should never have been made in the first place.
The constabulary’s central contact centre fields 1.2 million phone calls every year from people who have dialled 999 or the non-emergency 101 number. While all calls are stored, the majority do not result in an official record being created – but they take up 40 percent of the total call-handling time available.
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A meeting of the county’s police and crime panel heard that the force wants to encourage the public to make better use of digital methods of contacting the police in instances where it would be more appropriate than picking up the phone.
A three-year programme to overhaul the systems in the contact management centre has recently been completed and staff numbers have increased from 290 to 360, members were told.
“Sixty percent of calls to our contact centre are never logged, either because they are things which other agencies should be contacted about, [rather than] the police – or because they are calls [to enquire] about people in custody,” Superintendent Ian Dawson explained.
“We are moving towards [increased] digital interaction with the public – it’s a direction we have to continue to take.
“If we can have an impact on those calls and help better inform the public – and potentially look to make some automated responses which you would get in other parts of your daily life – then we can concentrate on calls where there is vulnerability,” he added.
The meeting heard that the contact centre is also often used by people wanting an update on incidents or crimes which have been reported previously. Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, suggested that a possible solution was to enable people to contact the relevant officers directly or receive automatic updates.
The time taken to answer 999 calls in Lancashire improved in the 12 months to June 2019 – with 76.1 percent of callers getting through within the target time of 10 seconds compared to 71.4 percent a year earlier.
But residents are waiting longer for an answer to 101 calls. The average time taken to be connected increased from 160 seconds to 188 seconds between June 2018 and and June 2019.
Panel members – made up of councillors from across the county – said they had plenty of anecdotal evidence which supported the deteriorating non-emergency response times.
“There are many people who say to me that they no longer bother ringing the police, because they never get a response,” deputy panel chair Andy Kay said.
“It may have taken them 20 minutes to get through [previously] and they don’t want to experience that again. I try to explain that they if they don’t call, then they definitely won’t get a response, because the police won’t know about [the problem].”
He added that analysis needed to be undertaken to assess whether there was a pattern to the type of inappropriate calls received by the police.
Meanwhile, Lancashire county councillor David Whipp, representing Pendle Council at the meeting, said that he “despaired” at talk of a digital solution to the problem and a “push button one” mentality creeping into the force.
“To my mind, policing is very much about the personal touch – and yet it seems we are creating systems and structures which are further and further away from the people.
“How are you going to put the people back into policing?” Cllr Whipp asked.
But Mr. Grunshaw hit back at the comments – saying it was Cllr Whipp’s own question which should be the source of despair.
“There has been a significant reduction in police resources in Lancashire, but we still have to deliver a service and do the best with what we have.
“We’ve got a technical solution to increased demand…which will enable us to deliver a greater reach and service to the public than ever before.
“People are seeing services from local authorities being downgraded or taken away – but the police can’t not respond to that 999 call or not deal with that person who has mental health needs.
“The answer is not just people, it’s about making systems better,” Mr. Grunshaw said.
The meeting heard that a survey conducted by the police and crime commissioner’s office showed that only a third of 3,000 respondents said that they were confident that the police would be there when they needed them and just 44 percent believed that the force could be relied upon to tackle crime.
But members were told that a new method of setting out police priorities – which was trialled in Lancashire in 2017 before being rolled out nationally – will result in the public seeing an improved level of service and crime investigation.
The Force Management Statement was credited with helping Lancashire Constabulary to improve its responses to cases where individuals are deemed to have a “vulnerability” and create a better intelligence picture on issues such as child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Forty new neighbourhood “task force” officers focusing on issues such as drug dealing and anti-social behaviour have also started to be deployed, with the first tranche hitting the streets in Chorley and Pendle earlier this month.
The force was visited by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary back in June – and the publication of their report is due early in the new year.
609 – number of 999 calls received by Lancashire Constabulary on a typical day*
2,125 – number of non-emergency calls received by Lancashire Constabulary on a typical day*
60 percent – proportion of calls received which are not deemed appropriate**