South Yorkshire Police is strapped for cash so it might seem odd that £12million is being spent on a new IT system.
South Yorkshire Police is strapped for cash so it might seem odd that £12m is being spent on a new IT system.
But, in terms of value for money, upgrading the 101 non-emergency number system, will be money very well spent.
For it is the failure of this number to quickly put members of the public through to someone who can help them that casts South Yorkshire Police in a harsh light in the eyes of many taxpayers.
Their perception of how good - or bad - the service is is dictated by the response they get when they dial this number - and then have to hang on for minutes. Sometimes for 40 minutes. Sometimes not getting through at all , as apparently happened to 50,000 calls over two years.
Ok, this is not an emergency number; for life or death calls we still have 999. But people calling this number want to report something that is bothering them; they want reassurance. And that, since the dawn of the police service in the UK, is one of its important functions.
Apparently before 2015 people dialling 101 waited on average 30 seconds for a response; they now wait around one minute 34 seconds. No wonder they get exasperated.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings has taken up the issue, quite rightly, as part of his role is to fight the corner of the people of South Yorkshire.
Two problems have been identified; a not fit for purpose system and a decision to cut back on staff at the Atlas Court centre too drastically. A perfect storm. More staff have been brought in and by the end of this year a new IT system should be in place.
Answering these calls quickly, rather than leaving people thinking it’s not worth the time trying to even call the police is vitally important in maintaining public confidence in the force at a time when they are under fire for aspects of their work.
It isn’t wasting valuable police officer resource either as these are largely civilain posts.
But Dr Billings raises another issue that must be taken into account here; the abuse of the system.
Just like the NHS where people call ambulances for spurious reasons like not being able to sleep - as an A and E consultant before a disciplinary hearing pointed out recently - people choose the call 101 for the strangest reasons, and none of them connected to policing matters.
Hand in hand with a better system and more staff we, the public, must display a more responsible attitude.
If these stupid calls are serious then we need to start educating people on when to use 999 and 101.