One of the key concerns raised during the policing agenda item at Cambridge’s East Area Committee on Thursday the 2nd of August 2012 was the continued long delays being faced by people phoning Cambridgeshire police on their non-emergency 101 number.
One member of the public, Joanna Dean of Norfolk street said she had waited on the phone for fifteen minutes, and said they were less likely to report matters given the delay. Another member of the public said the delay, coupled with their impression it wasn’t worth reporting many matters to the police, stopped them from reporting things like aggression and harassment from street drinkers.
Green County Councillor Cllr Sedgwick-Jell reported his constituents had told him about delays answering 101, he also reported that some of his constituents don’t see the point in reporting things like criminal damage to cars to the police because they’ve repeatedly experienced no action being taken in the past.
Cllr Richard Johnston asked Inspector Poppet who was present representing Cambridgeshire Police if he knew how bad the problem with 101 was, and if he knew, for example the average times people were waiting. Inspector Poppet said he didn’t have any idea how bad things were, but offered to obtain and provide information on average wait times on 101 if requested. The meeting’s chair Cllr Blencowe confirmed with Cllr Johnston and the committee that they would like to request such information.
Inspector Poppet suggested that those who fail to get through on the 101 should try emailing their local policing teams using the email addresses on the police website.
(The East Cambridge local policing team has a website which gives an email address.)
Two city council “anti-social behaviour” officers were present at the meeting. They said they had a list of alternative contact numbers for specific police and council officers and teams (they gave the example of “street life officers”), they said that while the council encouraged reports problems to be made to 101 they could also be made to the council.
As usual “anti-social behaviour” wasn’t defined; it’s clearly not going to be much good reporting a damaged car to the council, as I’d doubt they’d get it formally recorded as a crime. I don’t really see why we have a cadre of city council officers playing at being police officers and seeking to replicate aspects of the police’s role such as, in this case, taking reports of crime and anti-social behaviour.
One of my concerns is that if reports are made by email, or directly to individual officers, crimes and other reports will not be properly recorded; there is an opportunity for the police to manipulate their statistics by not recording reported crime. I hear repeatedly that people have to be really quite pushy to get something recorded as a crime by Cambridgeshire Police.
Speaking to me after the meeting Cllr Johnstone expressed another concern about directly contacting individual officers on mobile phones, that they understandably often don’t answer them, so you’re left with an answerphone and you don’t know if or when any message will be listened to. Another problem is these numbers probably won’t have the longevity of 101, and if you make a note of one now it probably won’t be relevant if you come to need it in a couple of year’s time.
Clearly the central 101 non emergency number system needs to be sorted out as a matter of urgency.
Pushing for Action
It was encouraging to see Cambridge’s East Area Committee join those trying to understand the problems the police have with their 101 number with a view to getting them addressed.
This is a problem being raised around the Cambridgeshire Police Force area, last month I wrote about concerns raised in Ely.
In December 2011 I used the public speaking slot at a Police Authority meeting to urge the police, and police authority to obtain information on the extent of the problem, and to urgently correct it.
When I was co-opted for one meeting on to Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Overview and Scrutiny Committee in December 2011 one of the things I used the opportunity to do was get the committee to request information on the extent of the phone answering problem. I followed this up regularly over the following six months and returned to the committee to use the public speaking slot in June 2012 asking them to chase up their request which the police had not fulfilled.
The problem is that the Police Authority and senior police officers do not appear to grasp the importance of answering the phone to the running of a police service. It is absolutely critical and of fundamental importance in my view. Every time a caller has a long wait, or gives up waiting, the hard earned reputation of the police takes a hit. The force area becomes harder to police as people stop trying to report things to the police. I think the police ought to have moved staff to address the problem as soon as it emerged.
Police and Crime Commissioner
Getting Cambridgeshire police to start answering their phones ought be top of an incoming police commissioner’s list of things to do on their first day. It is something which it ought be possible to correct straight away.
No Police Authority Representative
Cambridge’s unelected, unaccountable, appointed representative on the Police Authority, Ruth Joyce, was not present at the East Area Committee meeting. No substitute was present either.
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. – July 2012
- Cambridgeshire Police Phone Answering Failures Continue – July 2012