Delay-hit Cumbria Police phone line system could be scrapped for new model

12 October 2017 3:47PM

The computer system behind Cumbria Police's delay-hit 101 line could be scrapped following complaints about waiting times.

Force chiefs say a technical replacement or revamp would be a "game changer", with the county's crime commissioner stressing the situation was "not good enough".

In August, callers to the line had to wait an average of more than eight minutes to get through.

This followed a surge in 999 calls fuelled, it is believed, by the ongoing terror threat.

The bottom line is we know it's not good enough

The average waiting time dropped to about five minutes last month.

Ongoing concerns also follow an investigation earlier this year by CN Group.

It revealed callers at that time were left waiting up to six minutes for someone to answer the phone.

Now senior police believe there could be a case to be made for a new system.

The 101 line is the force's secondary non-emergency number.

But it is regularly used by police for information on some of the most serious crimes and to appeal for sightings of missing people.

The issue came under discussion at a public accountability conference held by crime commissioner Peter McCall, attended by top brass in the force.

Chief Superintendent Andy Towler gave a presentation about the number.

 Chief Superintendent Andy Towler

Chief Superintendent Andy Towler

He said: "Concern has been shown at the length of time we've been taking to answer non-emergency 101 calls."

Chief Supt Towler said this could be a "frustrating experience" for the public.

But he said the job of officers was not just to answer calls, with police deciding on the response needed and sometimes dealing with it themselves.

"They are practical, they are knowledgeable and they provide an enhanced level of support," said Chief Supt Towler.

"But the current issue has affected us.

"If you can't answer the phone to the satisfaction of the public it will effect in time that level of confidence.

"If calls are abandoned we miss intelligence. It undermines our aspiration to be excellent."

Problems adding to the issue included unexpectedly fewer staff at peak periods.

An improved 999 service also hit 101.

Chief Supt Towler said if people phoning 999 wanted officers to stay on the phone "we will stay with them until a police officer turns up on their doorstep".

"They are not going to move from there to answer 101s," he added.

On the actual technology of the system, he said: "It's good enough.

"There is probably a case to discuss replacing or upgrading that system to be fit for the 21st century."

Problems include not being able to put a message on to tell people the force is aware of a specific major incident.

Situations like a bad crash on a key route often lead to dozens of identical calls.

He said there was the potential to upgrade or replace the system.

"There is a business case to move forward," said Chief Supt Towler.

"That would be a game changer for us."

 Crime Commissioner for Cumbria Peter McCall

Crime Commissioner for Cumbria Peter McCall

Mr McCall said he was aware of the hard work going on among officers but expressed his concerns.

"I absolutely accept that in the summer there was a dramatic spike," he added.

"That summer isn't the first time we've had complaints about 101.

"The bottom line is we know it's not good enough.

"Our aspiration has to be to continue to improve.

"In terms of public expectation, a target of three minutes would be fantastic but under five, say, is a reasonable expectation in busy times.

"We need to continue to be doing everything we can to get there.

"We do need to continue to pursue the option of better technology.

"How quickly we can do that and find that cash is another issue."

The meeting was held at the force's Carleton Hall headquarters, near Penrith.

101 - How does it work?

A call comes in. People are given the option to speak to a person or connect to a know extension number.

If they go through to an officer handling the call, the officer uses a set decision model to decide the response needed.

They will either deploy an officer immediately, send them as a priority - or schedule an appointment.

If it is appropriate they will deal with the call themselves.

Dispatchers use technology to identify and deploy the most appropriate and timely resource.

They also relay background information to the attending officers and look after officer safety.

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