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Click before you call as contact centre staff cope with the summer surge

In her latest blog, Alison encourages people to use WebChat to contact to the police in a non-emergency and discusses a new pilot voice recognition call system.

I’ve written a lot recently about the pressures of summer policing and referred to the day last year, July 7, when Devon and Cornwall Police experienced the second busiest day in its history. Hot weather, World Cup football and a significant number of visitors combined to create 1,128 emergency 999 calls in a day – nearly double the average number of calls the force receives.

This year we’re already setting new records. The number of calls so far this year to Devon and Cornwall’s 101 line – the non-emergency number - peaked this month at 4,502 on July 1, 55% up on last year’s peak of 2,902 calls on July 19.

July is the busiest month of the year for Devon and Cornwall Police, largely because of the ‘Summer Surge’ – the influx of visitors who understandably flock to our stunning part of the world. This year, though, we’re seeing the extra demand take hold even before the schools break up. Next Friday major roads in Devon and Cornwall will be among the busiest in the country as tourists come to enjoy our stunning coastlines and rolling hills.

It’s not just the police that are feeling the strain. Last Wednesday (July 10) the Royal Cornwall Cornwall Hospital Treliske, in Truro, declared a critical incident due to high levels of demand. Our ambulance trust and other NHS services also struggled with additional calls for help.

The simple message for those who need to contact the police in a non-emergency is that, while our contact centre deals with unprecedented levels of demand, you should use WebChat, the live chat service launched last year, or our online contact form before dialling 101. Your response will be dealt with in the same way, it can avoid the frustration of waiting in a telephone queue, and online forms mean that the essential information is captured in a single, efficient communication.

For those who can’t use the online form or WebChat the 101 call centre number will remain an important way to get in touch. Within the next fortnight the force will be trialling a new voice recognition call system which will help people get the right information, more quickly. It should also mean that fewer people give up on calls and then phone back later, so reducing the total number of non-emergency calls coming into the force.

This pilot project will be monitored carefully and adapted and improved based on what users tell us they like and don’t like about it, so I’d urge people who experience the system to get in touch with me via my office, or take part in the on-call feedback request if prompted to do so.

Make no mistake, I always urge people to report crime. Without this evidence it’s impossible to get a true picture of offending in our force area and therefore impossible to shape our response, both in terms of policing and commissioned services, to deal with it. But it’s clear that a high number of the calls to 101 are not police matters. Inconsiderate parking and dog fouling, while undoubtedly a serious nuisance, are matters that local authorities have the powers to deal with, not the police, yet they are the cause of a disproportionate number of calls to the force. Lost and found, which the police do not deal with any more.

If we can improve people’s understanding of what the police are here for, then they will be able to provide a better service for everyone.

Despite its challenges our police force still does an incredible job, retaining the force area as the sixth safest in England and Wales, and it employs some outstanding people. And we are starting to gain recognition in the Westcountry for innovating to rise to those challenges.

In Westminster last week, where my team and I took our campaign for more funding for our force, we were able to describe investment in technology; like drones and arguably the best body worn video system used by any force; and an investment in people like Tri-Service Officers and Community Responders that are making a huge impact on the communities in which they serve.

By continuing to innovate and communicate with the 1.7m residents of Devon and Cornwall I am sure we can keep Devon, Cornwall and The Isles of Scilly as among the safest places in the UK to live, work and visit. And remember, if you do need to contact police in a non emergency then it would be helpful if you could do it online at devon-cornwall.police.uk before dialling 101.

Alison Hernandez