Today’s columnist, David Crompton: Think before you phone 101

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From calls to report the late delivery of a carpet to a report of someone blocking a friend on Facebook, the 101 lines are in high demand and those who need us most tell us they are struggling to get through.

101 is our non-emergency call line for those requiring a policing response. Sadly, too many of our calls are more in line with the above examples, blocking lines for others callers.

We receive two million calls a year to South Yorkshire Police’s contact centre, including 3,000 calls every day to the force’s 999 and 101 numbers for the 265 call handlers and dispatchers.

The staff taking these calls are the first point of contact for those in the most need. Their safety can depend on how well our call handlers respond to the incident they are reporting.

This is why I took the difficult decision recently to move some of our officers temporarily into the contact centre. By pulling together the knowledge and experience of both officers and staff we can best deal with reports of incidents as they come in. We can often reach a satisfactory conclusion over the phone for many callers, which reduces the need for an officer to be deployed and ultimately protects the frontline for those who need them most.

Another vital demand on our communications staff is those reported missing from home. Numbers have increased significantly in the last few years and these reports often require a major police response. Call handlers and dispatchers record crucial details and deploy staff, coordinating searches, and other resources in order to find the person reported missing. This can often lead to extensive investigations which affect less urgent cases, especially when, in a typical shift, we can have six or more missing people reported, some very vulnerable.

We’ll never remove the need for missing people searches as this is a key policing role and we are best equipped to find those most at risk. However, we are working with our partners to ensure those reported missing are actually missing and not simply absent. There is a subtle difference but it has a big impact on policing.

For example, if someone leaves hospital before they have been discharged, should the police be called or should an initial enquiry be made by calling the person on the phone numbers provided to check they are OK?

As we look to the future, the rise of online reporting is becoming the preferred route for many and we are updating our technology, so we can do more of this in the future.

Our website is no longer fit for purpose and we’re in the process of consulting with people across South Yorkshire to find out what they would like to be able to do online and what would make them choose the website over calling 101 so we can further manage some of this demand. Keep an eye on our website for ways in which you can get involved.

We’re also encouraging people who are calling simply for information to visit our website to find the information. This can be found at www.southyorks.police.uk/whoyougonnacall

For many people, our staff provide a reassuring voice on the end of the phone when they are needed the most.

They are well trained and equipped to provide the support you need if this service is properly utilised and respected.

* David Crompton, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire