Improving the performance of the 101 service
PCC Alison Hernandez discusses the improvements made to the 101 service and reflects on a recent visit to the control room.
As I have travelled across Devon and Cornwall, meeting the public, speaking to businesses and engaging with partners and councillors one of the key issues, in fact the issue that is raised more often than any other, is the length of waiting times on the 101 non-emergency contact line.
People cite long delays and some people even tell me that people choose not to contact the police as they don’t think they will get through. This is not a new problem, it is something my predecessor as PCC started to deal with in response to public concern.
101 performance continues to be a challenge but significant improvements have been made. Waiting times are down considerably and we have also introduced new ways to contact 101 including a new email service. I want to encourage all members of the public who need to contact the police via 101 to do so.
The issue was not with the speed that calls were answered at first point of contact (usually within 30 seconds), at which point calls are assessed to ensure that any urgent calls can be responded to with the same level of priority as calls through the 999 service. Problems arose once the call had been assessed as non-urgent was transferred to another call handler who would deal with their issue
To be clear, the response by the call handlers was found to be good but problems were identified with the processes and technology which were leading to long waiting times.
In January 2016 it got to the point that the previous commissioner required the chief constable to deliver a sustainable improvement and set aside £250,000 to support any resourcing or technical improvements needed to deliver an uplift in the short term.
My team has identified, through consultation with the public, an expectation for waiting times of between two and five minutes before speaking to a second call handler who will deal with their issue. There has been a lot of work going on over the past couple of years to reduce these waiting times and to ensure that the service provided meets this expectation for the majority of calls.
The chief constable put in place an action plan which included technology improvements, increased staffing levels and stronger support system for our dedicated team of call handlers who do a hugely difficult job. He also launched a campaign encouraging the public to use alternative contact methods such as email, reporting a crime online and talking to a 101 call handler via webchat.
I am really pleased to say that all of these actions have delivered a significant uplift in performance with average waiting times to get through to someone who can respond to a non-urgent issue down from an average delay of 10 minutes to between 2 and 5 minutes.
During a recent visit to see the 101 control room I observed some real changes in the room. I saw a really strong focus on keeping people informed of waiting times with callers being advised of the time that they would have to wait before they are transferred. I also saw a dynamic approach with all of the team working together to deal with queues rapidly when they start to grow so they can bring down waiting times. Finally I saw a much stronger presence from the supervisors who were on hand to support and advise the call handlers when needed.
Whilst at the control room, I spent some time listening to the calls being made and it struck me again that many of the calls are simply not police matters. From what I saw the call handlers were very capable in assessing the nature of the call and the type of response that was needed. They were polite yet firm when they needed to redirect callers or ask them to call a different number.
Our dedicated team of 101 call handlers are a significant part of the frontline and they do a really difficult job. We should all thank them for the excellent work they do.
While we must continue to improve, I urge the public to have faith in the system and to use it when they need to. Further work is ongoing to give people more options on how they contact the police and to improve processes and systems that can sometimes get in the way and slow things down.
These significant changes will ensure that the service provided through 101 is more robust and sustainable for the future. However the public can also play its part in supporting the 101 service by making themselves aware of what is and what is not a police matter.
The easiest way to do this is via the Force’s new Ask NED online service, a non-emergency directory which combines the questions that members of the public have asked with contact details of those that can help (https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/askned)
In addition if you want to be kept up to-date on issues and activity in your local area then you can follow your local policing team on Twitter or Facebook.
Remember if it is an emergency dial 999 but if your issue is non urgent contact the 101 team either by:
Phoning 101 – where average wait times are now between 2 and 5 minutes
Using the report a crime online webform at https://services.devon-cornwall.police.uk/crimereporting/
Webchat at https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk