Finally some proper summer weather has arrived, and as the mercury rises our beaches have become busier and soon, when schools break up, the South West’s hotel and hospitality industries will be running at full tilt.
In Cornwall alone tourism is responsible for one in five jobs and is projected to grow considerably over the next few years. It is linked to so many other industries, like fishing, farming and retail, and quite frankly both counties would be considerably poorer without people who choose to spend well-earned time off with us.
With a rise in population and more activity on the roads and in bars and clubs comes an increase in calls for police help and the frustrations felt as waiting times on for the 101 non emergency contact service increase. I feel this every year through my conversations with you and it was no surprise that it was once again discussed at Friday’s Police and Crime Panel, where it is a regular cause of debate.
Figures from the last few years show how much the holiday season impacts on the police service with 999 calls increasing by 26.9%, with an average of 818 calls received per day. On top of that are (on average) 1,861 101 calls and 349 e-contacts (emails or messages sent via the website) with reports of 764 incidents per summer day. The total number of incidents recorded by Devon and Cornwall Police increased by 11.5%.
I have lobbied hard for recognition of our additional summer population in the way we are funded. Devon and Cornwall Police deals with more domestic visitors than any other so this would make a considerable difference to our resources if we were paid to police the number of people we actually police.
But this has not stopped us investing in police contact. I have made more money available to the force over the years so it can recruit more people to answer calls and tackle nuisance callers who tie up a lot of call centre time, meaning those with real need wait longer to get through. Despite the extra investment call levels have risen, the complexity of dealing with incidents has increased and call waiting times are longer than anyone would like.
We can all do our bit by understanding what constitutes a police matter and what should be directed at other agencies, like councils or specialist bodies. This week the force is launching its campaign to improve public understanding so they can get through to the right person first time.
For example, noise nuisance issues and fly tipping matters are dealt with by councils and most fraud complaints are handled by specialist agency Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. Many still call the police in the first instance and may end up waiting to speak to someone for a long time before ultimately having to go and contact the other agency. This can be hugely frustrating for the caller and also ties up the call handler who could be answering other calls.
Another challenge for contact centre staff is misdialling. Now most people have mobile phones this happens frequently, and staff must make contact with the caller to ensure that they are OK. It can take 30 minutes of police staff time, every time, to try and get hold of you to make sure you’re not in any danger and that’s time needed to be able to respond to emergencies.
The message we’re sending is that they will be understanding but would appreciate a call back to confirm if no help is needed.
If you need to speak to police they will always be there for you, but in a non emergency consider using the online form or webchat, and if you must call you can check waiting times online to choose a less busy time.
So, the force and I are asking you to do your bit to ensure police get to those most in need this summer. Those of you really interested in being part of the solution may want to consider a career in this front-line policing role, helping Devon and Cornwall residents in their time of need.
Positions are available in Plymouth and Exeter contact centres and in several police enquiry desks which are being reopened over the next couple of years. These police station roles also deal with face-to-face inquiries as we seek to improve the links between police and our communities. These roles are being advertised on the force website now.
Finally, I rely on information provided by you to make decisions. You can still make your views on police contact known via the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ national survey, launched by me, by following the links on my website devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk.