101 Now Answered Within Thirty Seconds Says Police and Crime Commissioner

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013. 3:31am

There has been a longstanding problem with Cambridgeshire Police not answering non-emergency calls in a reasonable amount of time. During 2012 a wait of 45 minutes for a non-emergency call to be answered was reported with further waits of a similar time occurring when callers were then transferred to someone to take details.

At Cambridge’s East Area Committee on the 26th of March 2013 Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright announced the problem had been solved; and all calls are now being answered within thirty, or thirty four, seconds.

If true, this is fantastic. Commissioner Bright reported the issue was simple to solve which raises questions about the competence of the Police Authority and Chief Constable who both failed to deal with it for so long. It sounds as if the solution has been a mixture of new technology and additional staff – enabling calls to be taken by other members of staff at times of peak demand.

Confidence in the Police is hard won and easily lost. If a non-emergency call isn’t answered in a timely manner people reasonably wonder if the police will be able to respond quickly if they are needed in an emergency. Excessive delays on the phone lines also deter people from reporting matters to the police.

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright announced his target of getting all 101 calls answered within 30 seconds at a a meeting of Cambridge’s West/Central Area Committee on the 10th of January 2013; the pledge also made it into his draft Police and Crime Plan published on the 26th of February. In February 2013 the Chief Constable was considering having staff working from home answering 101 calls as a way of meeting the commissioner’s target.

The details of how the improvement in phone answering performance has actually been made are yet to emerge; but even if at peak times some people are not having the matters they are calling up with fully dealt with at least calls from others are being promptly answered so that they can be prioritised appropriately.

During Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s presentation to the meeting he said:

Getting people to get in touch with the police and report problems, report perhaps suspicious movements, was a problem because of the length of time it took for people to get through on the 101.

And that was a real problem and I know because I tried it several times before.

I’m pleased to say now you can get through on 101 and speak to someone within thirty seconds.

That is a dramatic improvement because the first time I tried it, it was nine minutes ten seconds.

The idea of that is to encourage people to contact the police in that way.

I thought Police and Crime Commissioner Bright’s statement was astonishing, and I sought clarification:

Richard Taylor:

Could I just try and get some clarification of some of the points Graham Bright made in his presentation there?

Firstly he said we can be guaranteed a response on 101 within thirty seconds – that’s obviously excellent if you’ve managed to do that; but is that really true? Have you got one hundred percent of the 101 calls being answered in thirty seconds.

The real problem wasn’t with the vast majority, it was with a small percentage which were taking a very long time and also getting put through to someone to actually take details about a crime and a second wait. So have you fully addressed those two problems?

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright:

The answer is yes.

Richard Taylor:


Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright:

I think we’re looking at about 94% being done within thirty seconds.

Richard Taylor:

Well it’s no then?
It’s no then?

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright:

No it’s not.
Are you going to let me answer the question or are you going to interrupt?
[Member of the public heckles: "he asked you if it was 100%"]

It’s 94% within thirty seconds and if it goes beyond that we’re talking about thirty three or thirty four seconds so lets not be nit-picking about that.

I’ve been to the call centre and they have got numbers up on the wall about how many calls there are coming in; how quickly they’re being answered, and if they’re missed, why.

What they’ve done is quite a simple thing actually; they’ve got a spill over so that when they’ve got a lot of calls coming in it spills over to other people.

It is working.

I’ve been to the call centre in Peterborough, talked to the staff there, congratulated them because I think it’s great what they’ve done.

I can tell you the first time I had a meeting about this I did dial in and it was taking eight minutes then the next meeting I had when they told me they’d solved it I actually sat there and dialled in and it was twenty-seven seconds. So I am really thrilled because it was taking so long, and I know because I tried it.

Richard Taylor:

That’s absolutely fantastic. Brilliant.

Some of my previous articles and actions campaigning, lobbying and drawing attention to this subject:

Thanks to Martin Lucas-Smith for the photo of me questioning Commissioner Bright; via CycleStreets.net

20 comments/updates on “101 Now Answered Within Thirty Seconds Says Police and Crime Commissioner

  1. Bob Smith

    This can only be a start.

    It is the quality of the service that you get once the call has been answered that has been a issue for some, exacerbated by the long wait. Now the long wait is seemingly dealt with I will be interested in hearing from Sir Graham how he is testing the quality of response. It is an easy thing to do with follow up calls a day or so later by an independent body that can discuss with the caller what they thought of the response.

    I recognise that there may be some data protection issues here but they can be easily resolved by what is said in the initial call.

    In the North of the County where I live there are often problems of whose call it is, as you can live in Cambs but reporting an incident that is in Norfolk. This is not a new problem but one that needs tackling. In addition, if the initial call is answered quickly, but the response is that someone will call you back, then it is the length of time that call back takes that is important.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    A FOI response I have received from the police suggests there has not been a significant change in recent months in call answering performance on 101:

    Month Number of Calls Number Waiting Over 30 Seconds % Waiting over 30 Seconds
    January 29,018 1,526 5.26%
    February 27,156 1,951 7.18%
    March 28,610 2,640 9.23%
    April 17,002 1,179 6.93%

    Figures for 2013, calls to the police call centre. April figures based on a part-month. Further information in linked FOI response.

    The figures for answering within 34 or 35 seconds are not provided in response to the FOI request; showing are not held by the police. The police are still not routinely monitoring by how much they are missing their target of answering 101 calls within thirty seconds.

    The police statistics show that their 101 call answering performance is not significantly better to-date in April than it was in January this year. The police figures do not appear to support the commissioner’s claim of a dramatic change, though we don’t know, and it appears the police don’t know either, how long people are waiting on the phone for 101 to be answered once the 30 target has been missed.

    No data was supplied by the police on the time taken for “second waits”, ie waits once the call has initially been answered and then transferred; again this suggests the police are not routinely recording and monitoring this key statistic.

    The police statistics do not show 94% of 101 calls being answered within thirty seconds in March 2013 at the time the Commissioner claimed that was the case.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Rupert Moss-Eccardt who stood for election as Police and Crime Commissioner for the Liberal Democrats, and who is now the party’s county chairman and policing spokesman has today reported on Twitter (1,2, 3) his experience of trying to contact the police and experiencing delays after calling the 101 number:

    (1/3) First attempt got picked up quickly but the q for the support centre was so long phone ran out of juice (20 mins)
    (2/3) 2nd call, hour later. Queue now 30+ mins. Suggested I call back later, which I did
    3rd call, 3 hours after incident. Waited about 10 mins and got dealt with

    Unprecedentedly Police and Crime Commissioner Bright (or at least his office) responded to Rupert Moss-Eccardt’s tweets, although just asking for “more details” “for us to respond to your concern”. Whereas the commissioner has made clear he doesn’t deal with people like me, Rupert Moss-Eccardt is clearly the kind of person he is prepared to deal with; his tweet has prompt what I think is only the second @ reply to an individual via twitter from the commissioner’s account since the commissioner took office (this being the first).

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright has been clear repeatedly, including to the Police and Crime Panel, that he is responsible for having taken decisions which led to the improvement in call answering performance. Commissioner Bright has yet to report this decision for scrutiny to the Police and Crime Panel (they only scrutinise decisions when the Commissioner notifies them!). Hopefully this is something they will look at when they return to work in November after a very long summer break.

  4. BrianLJ

    I am still waiting for a response on 101. It’s been 25 minutes listening to the recorded msg telling me that average wait is 5 mins but possibly as long as 10 minutes at busy times.

    The perps who committed the crime I just witnessed are now tucked up in bed.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Another example of someone taking well over 30 seconds to get their call to 101 answered has been tweeted:

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel meeting on the 6th of November 2013 panel member Cllr Bullen raised 101 performance. He said he had received reports of poor performance from many people and had even experienced it himself. Cllr Bullen explained he’d called 101 and his call was rapidly answered, but he was then put on hold and played recordings saying “we’re very very busy”; he said he waited on hold for ten minutes during which time the situation he was calling in relation to developed and he decided to hang up and call 999.

    Cllr Bullen noted he’d taken up the time of two operators; rather than the one he would have spoken to if he’d got straight through on 101.

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright responded to say “We are aware of … we are on the case”.

    Cmmr Bright said that call answering had been sped up, but it was ‘what happens next’ that’s the problem. The Commissioner volunteered that there’s a particular problem with ensuring people actually get a call back if that’s what they’re promised.

    Commissioner Bright said he was encouraging the police making appointments with people; so they’re not “chasing people around”.

    Commissioner Bright said that the 101 service was generally working all right, however

    “when it goes wrong the service goes wrong”

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    A report to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Business Co-Ordination Board (which is held behind closed doors) reveals options for callers to request a call back rather than waiting for their call to be answered. To-date this has been tried with the caller leaving a message, and it is proposed to try it without the leave a message option in the future:


    The rest of the report shows the Police are still not telling the Police and Crime Commissioner how badly they are missing the 30 second call answering target in those cases where it is missed.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    There appears to still be a problem. Someone has tweeted on the 2nd of July to say they have spent 22 minutes on hold to 101:

    Also Cllr Ann M Sinnott told the June 2014 Police and Crime Panel that she was aware of someone who had recently waited on hold for 17 minutes.

    However Cllr Sinnott and the panel did not use their positions to seek to scrutinise the commissioner’s decisions related to call answering performance.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    Ongoing problems with 101 were reported to the East Area Committee on the 11th of September 2014.

    Delays were reported by two councillors; one of whom said the matter had been discussed at a meeting of Mill Road traders the day before, and some of those at the meeting had said they had found themselves driven to calling 999 in circumstances where 999 wasn’t really appropriate.

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cab Davidson, the author of the Cambridge Cyclist blog has written about his experience with a slow response on calling 101, and making a suggestion for removing the need for some calls:

    I was directed to phone 101, which would of course necessitate reading a long URL down the phone, a procedure likely to result in errors and a waste of time. After waiting around 5 minutes to get through first time, I was then cut off, and the second call took 14 minutes to get hold of someone, who took a long time to find an email address to make the report to. Said address (xxxx@xxxx.xxx.xx.xx) could very easily be shared on your website to facilitate rapid, easy communication but it is not.

    Cab Davidson also tweeted:

  11. Bob

    A few months ago Imade a formal complaint about the 101 service. I had to chase a reply which was pro forma at best. It said that Sir Graham was well aware of the problems and was doing his best to get the police service to address the problems. It then gave a load of guff about other issues none of them relevant to my complaint. Indeed, I wrote a further letter complaining about the stupid reply and I challenged, using evidence, some of the assertions about Speedwatch. A reply has not been received.

    The answer for me is quite simple. I can’t call the police station, 101 doesn’t answer, so I will dial 999. Tough on the 999 service but if everyone does it they might get the message and improve the 101 service.

    Sir Graham is useless and overpaid as are the friends he has appointed. I can only hope the political parties put forward decent candidates this time although I remain convinced that the office of Commissioner is simply not needed.i can see no evidence anywhere in England where it has led to improved policing.

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