Police Failure to Answer Phone Discussed at Cambridge East Area Committee

Friday, August 3rd, 2012. 1:13pm

101 the new non-emergency number

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.

I have made a Freedom of Information request in public for Cambridgeshire Police’s phone answering performance statistics.

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:

4 comments/updates on “Police Failure to Answer Phone Discussed at Cambridge East Area Committee

  1. Rupert Moss-Eccardt

    I’m not convinced a PCC will be able to do anything about this. I guess a rebalance of the budget with more money going on the phones and people but this is the PCC problem. This is operational not strategic, or is it?

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    In my view this is completely spot on the bulls-eye of what a commissioner will be able to do. They’ll be able to tell the Chief Constable that the public want their calls to the police answered in a timely fashion and the Chief Constable will need to make that happen.

    I certainly hope we don’t have a commissioner who waits until April 2013 when their first budget comes into effect to sort this problem out.

  3. Rupert Moss-Eccardt

    Yes, the Plan that is expected almost instantly will, no doubt, set an objective of answering the phones more effectively and the PCC can certainly start measuring it. Even measuring it will cost some resource so the PCC can choose to stop measuring something else or even stop something else happening. Actually fixing it will probablty be straightforward but will require a redirection of resource. Hopefully the Chief Constable and PCC will work out how to do that but, asssuming the Chief Constable hasn’t been sandbagging one has to believe that there isn’t any slack.

    Mind you, the PCC will have funds under his/her direct control so by phasing them and planning to backfill the money from the next budget period could provide some resource directly.

    But, as I said, this is an area where the operational/strategic line is blurred but clear expectations can still be set.

  4. Dave

    The major problem here is, as the chief constable has openly stated, that Cambridgeshire will get a second class service, if that is all that there is the money for. For the modern, career focussed, officer public service and accountability are completely alien concepts. The G4S fiasco is testament to the complete inability of senior officers to understand the complexities of the business world – not their fault – and their naivety is astonishing.

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