Cambridgeshire Police’s continued, now long-standing, failure to answer their phones in a reasonable time was one of the top items raised at Ely’s “Neighbourhood Panel meeting” on the 18th of July 2012.
I attended and observed the meeting. A number of members of the public present raised problems they, and others, had experienced when calling the police non-emergency number 101. A man called Stan, who said he was the Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator for East Cambridgeshire, said he had heard from someone who was waiting for the police to answer their phone for 45 minutes. He said he had called himself, and once he’d been put through to someone to take his details, there was a 20 minute delay over that “second wait”.
An elderly woman, Mrs Collins, said she had called 101, because she wanted to contact Ely Police Station, but they don’t have a number, she said she wanted to speak to her local officers because she thought what she wanted wasn’t important enough to bother people at police HQ with. She explained the outcome was the police sent officers round to her house the next day; police Inspector Paul Ormerod, appeared to think this was a good thing, but my interpretation of what Mrs Collins was saying was that sending a couple of officers round to her house wasn’t what she wanted, she was trying her best not to create work for the police, and just wanted to speak to a local officer on the phone.
The meeting’s chair, an Ely City Councillor, said he’d called 101, and had been put through to a Neighbourhood Policing Team’s answer-phone. He said he just hung up when this happened, as he had no way of knowing if messages were going to be listened to in a timely manner. Police Inspector Ormerod said answer-phones were used routinely and claimed they were listened to; the chair suggested the recorded message be updated to make clear messages left would be picked up reasonably rapidly.
Two other members of the public reported problems they’d experienced making calls to 101, with one saying they’d been on the phone for 25 minutes.
Inspector Ormerod said the police were “fully aware” of their failure to answer the phone; he said ten new staff were being employed and the police hoped to have the problems addressed “by October”.
Police Authority Response
Police Authority member Cllr Victor Lucas was present to talk about the election of Police Commissioners. He started though by commenting on the comments about the 101 number. He stated the Police Authority were “keeping a careful scrutiny eye” on the situation.
However Cllr Lucas and his colleagues have disbanded the scrutiny committee which was looking into the problems, and they have failed to obtain statistics from the police on how long people have been waiting for their calls to be answered. I thought Cllr Lucas’ claims the Police Authority was effectively doing its job in relation to this were highly misleading.
I think the police not answering their phones is a critical issue, the importance of which is being massively underestimated by senior police officers and the police authority, both of whom operate in a rather abstract and disconnected manner .
The problems with phone answering have been going on over a year now, and they have not been solved.
This is severely damaging the reputation of the police in Cambridgeshire, and people’s ability to contact the police.
My previous articles and actions campaigning, lobbying and drawing attention to this subject:
- Cambridgeshire Police Not Answering Phone – September 2011 article following a Police Authority Scrutiny meeting I observed where problems with phone answering were raised via the police performance report.
- Cambridgeshire County Council Full Council Question on Phone Answering – November 2011, question asked by Cllr Steve Tierney following my suggestion that the issue ought be raised.
- I was a co-opted member of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee in December 2011 and raised the issue of police phone answering performance.
- Cambridgeshire Police Authority December 2011 – phone answering was again discussed
- Cambridgeshire Police Getting Even Worse at Answering Phone – December 2011 article reporting my use of the public speaking slot at Cambridgeshire Police Authority’s Scrutiny Committee to stress importance of the subject
- Asking Cambs County Council Police Scrutiny Committee To Chase Cambs Police for Phone Answering Performance Data – June 2012
- I asked a public question to the June 2012 Full Meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority this question stated: “Will the full authority take on the work the scrutiny committee was doing monitoring phone answering performance, and in particular take on the committee’s efforts to get information from the police on how badly they were missing their target phone answering times?”. The “answer” did not address the question.
- FOI request to OFCOM on 999 system performance and failures.
I think this is an area an elected commissioner ought make a huge, and instant, impact on. The police have got their priorities utterly wrong if they’re not answering their phones. Answering the phone is a basic, core, essential thing a police service must do.