Devon and Cornwall Police 101 number review over long wait times

Devon and Cornwall’s police commissioner is to carry out a review of the non-emergency 101 contact service that is missing call waiting time targets.

The Police and Crime Panel that monitors the commissioner’s work was told the average wait for non-priority 101 calls was longer than the 20-minute target during the 12 months to July 2020.

However, the figures also showed that many priority calls were being answered within the five-minute target, with an average of less than six minutes.

Commissioner Alison Hernandez is to lead a study into how the force’s approach meets the needs of the public.

A report to the panel said there were just over one million contacts to the Devon and Cornwall force in the 12-month period.

The number of calls was on an upward trend over the last four years with more than 260,000 emergency 999 calls during the year, but demand for 101 had fallen due to the pandemic.

There were just over 581,000 calls to 101 during the 12 months, while alternative online contact methods had gone up by half.

Ms Hernandez said a new voice recognition system to prioritise high-priority reports introduced in July 2019 had increased the complexity and length of calls.

The report said the same handlers dealt with 999 calls, 101 calls and the other contact methods such as email and webchat. 

They were often diverted away from 101 to deal with emergency calls that posed the highest risk.

The 101 voice recognition system prioritises domestic abuse, hate crime, missing persons, roads and sexual offences.

For the 12 months to July 2020, the average answer times for the missing person line, for example, was four minutes and nine seconds.

All other non-urgent high priority lines had average call wait times below six minutes.

The target for the remaining 101 calls is to answer within 20 minutes. The panel was told on average callers had to wait 21 minutes and 38 seconds to provide a new report and just under 23 minutes to give an update on a previously reported incident or crime.

The report said the number of 101 contacts by email and text had doubled in the 12 months to July 2020, and the use of webchat had trebled.

There was the equivalent of 191 full-time call handlers and 19 supervisors running the 24/7 operation, with 40 new recruits joining in September and October.

The panel backed a recommendation from Gareth Derrick that the review should consider what measures or investment were necessary to “restore performance of the 101 system to acceptable levels.”

Cllr Derrick is Labour’s candidate to challenge Conservative Ms Hernandez at the next election for the police and crime commissioner scheduled for May 2021.

The study into the 101 service led by Ms Hernandez will start in October with a report expected in December.