West Midlands Police have been ranked among the worst in the UK as new figures revealed the 999 call answering times amid a ‘huge demand’. The league table was released for the first time ever in a bid to improve speeds nationally.
On average across the UK, police forces receive a 999 call every three seconds – with an aim to pick up the phone in under ten seconds as callers face ‘life or death’ emergencies.
Stats revealed the average call time for West Midlands Police as 23.2 seconds – placing the fifth highest across the UK. Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Gloustershire and Greater Manchester Police were the only areas where this figure was higher.
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High performing areas recorded average call times of six seconds. Neighboring force West Mercia Police, which includes Worcestershire, recorded an average call time of 11.7 seconds, according to the stats.
West Midlands Police left 11 per cent of callers waiting for over a minute and a further 25 per cent of calls were answered between ten and 60 seconds. A total of 63 per cent were picked up in under ten seconds – less than the national average of 71 per cent.
Figures showed West Mercia Police answered calls under ten seconds in 78 per cent of cases. A fifth of callers waited between ten and 60 seconds and only two per cent of callers were delayed for over a minute.
The comparison came amid a ‘key commitment’ in the government’s Beating Crime Plan, with the hope of improving transparency and performance from the forces. The first data set covers calls made between November 1, 2021 to April 30, 2022. While some forces are consistently responsive, others require improvement, the Home Office said as it released the data.
One such high performing force was Avon and Somerset, who consistently answer over 90 percent of their 999 calls in under ten seconds.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Calling 999 can literally be a matter of life and death. The public deserves to know that their local police force will be at the end of the phone, ready to leap into action at seconds’ notice to protect them from harm.
“Fundamentally, publishing this data is about driving up standards in our incredible emergency services even further, so that the public can have every confidence in the police’s ability to save lives and keep our streets safe. We can now see where forces are excelling and where vital improvements need to be made and I thank the police for their commitment to ensuring we maintain the best emergency services in the world. ”
Police forces are operationally independent, and each will have its own unique pressures to identify and address. Prank calls, a lag time in connecting and inappropriate use of 999 to call for issues that are not emergencies, can all contribute to delays in answering.
The lag time, between dialing 999 and being connected to a call-handler, can be up to seven seconds in some areas. Some police forces are already reviewing their telephone systems and working with BT to resolve this.
Seasonal periods, such as New Year’s Eve, particularly hot or cold weather, concerts and festivals, can also have a significant impact on waiting times in some forces, due to peaks in people traveling to the force area. An overall picture of a force’s effectiveness in answering emergency calls, considering these factors, will continue to be refined as the data collection continues.
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Contact Management, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, said the data showed a “high level of demand” placed on call handlers on a daily basis. He admitted there are sometimes lag times connecting calls to the police as he vowed to work with partners like BT to improve the experience for 999 callers.
He urged people to only phone 999 in a genuine emergency amid the “huge amount of pressure” on the call handlers working tirelessly in “someone’s time of need”.
ACC Todd said: “We know one of our biggest areas of concern for 999 calls to the police are prank calls. Not only do they waste police time, it can also delay someone who needs genuine help, in getting it when they need it. When someone dials 999, every second counts, and we can not have those selfish individuals in our society willfully wasting police time through prank calls.
“To them, my appeal is to be considerate that their actions may be putting someone’s life at risk. People will be calling 999 when they are in need of emergency help, together we must ensure that the lines are not being put under pressure through things like prank calls aimed at wasting police time.
“I also understand that some people may be concerned about whether they should be dialing 999 or not and in what circumstances. We know when a member of public calls 999 for something which is policing related, it may not be an emergency and they have to be directed to other services such as 101, which results in inadvertently taking up 999 emergency call handlers time.
“The message to the public is that you should absolutely call 999, but do so if a serious offense is in progress or has just been committed; if there is a threat to someone’s life, or they are in immediate danger or harm; if property is in danger of being damaged; or if a serious disruption to the public is likely. “
Police and Crime Commissioners across the country will be using the data to ‘get a grip on performance, hold chief constables accountable and ensure the public receive an “effective response” to their 999 call, added APCC Local Policing Leads, Alison Hernandez and Jeff Cuthbert .
They said: “As the public’s voice in policing, PCCs are very keen to better understand the experiences of the public when contacting their local forces, which is why the APCC issued a national survey on contact management earlier this month to help identify any challenges around where the public report crime through both 101 and 999 services.
“PCCs are committed to supporting excellence in policing and will use this data to continuously drive forward improvements and hold the police to account on behalf of the public.”
The data, accessible via www.police.uk on the 999 performance data tab, will be released at the end of each month for the previous month. If a serious offense is in progress, the public should dial 999. Callers who have a policing related matter to report, but not an emergency, should report it via 101 or the local force website.
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