Suffolk police take average of 15 minutes to answer routine 101 calls
- Credit: Archant
Police insist they are committed to reducing 101 call waiting times after figures showed routine calls went unanswered for more than 15 minutes.
The number of non-emergency calls to Suffolk Constabulary's contact and control room (CCR) fell by almost a quarter (23.5%) to 115,606 in the 12 months to April.
During March, the average time it took to answer a routine non-emergency call was 922 seconds.
While 999 call handling demand fell 2.5% compared to the long-term average, the force answered calls in an average time of five-and-a-half seconds.
A report before the police and crime commissioner's accountability and performance panel said a priority queuing system ensured the control room efficiently answered public safety and vulnerability calls ahead of general 101 enquiries.
It said online reporting and a new 'live web chat' function continued to be promoted as an alternative route, and that 21,632 crimes had been reported online in 2020, compared to 13,070 the previous year.
Assistant chief constable Rob Jones told the panel that the force acknowledged the challenge of 101.
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He described the CCR as an "engine room", prioritising calls at a very early stage, and dealing with 1,600 domestic abuse and mental health incidents in March alone.
He said high-risk 101 calls were answered and addressed within an average time of about six-and-a-half minutes, adding: "When people worry about long waiting times, as I do – and we have a number of people just giving up – it can mask the tremendous amount of work that has gone into that team.
"Our clear priority is to reduce call waiting times and improve abandoned call rates.
"We know that about 73% of calls are abandoned because people hear the automated messages and realise they can report crime online. I would call that a healthy attrition, but we also know people are giving up in frustration."
Mr Jones said a recent staff survey led to a shift pattern review to better align resources with demand.
He said two staff had been put in place to deal with the live chat function of the constabulary website and had responded to 384 chats within an average of 12 seconds in March.
"We have to test how many times more efficient the live chat is compared to talking to people on the phone, but the indications are that it might be up to four times more efficient," he added.
Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore pledged £250,000 for CCR improvement and digital public contact after increasing the policing element of the council tax by 6.7% for 2021/22.