Callers trying to contact South Yorkshire Police by telephone for non-emergencies can still expect to be on hold for around three minutes, as the force and its suppliers wrangle over the installation of a new computer system to handle increasing demand from the public.
The latest figures for May show those contacting the Atlas Court call centre had to wait an average of two minutes and 57 seconds for someone to pick up their call, meaning some people will have faced longer delays at busy times.
On the evening of one of England’s World Cup football games, staff at Atlas Court had to deal with 750 callers in the space of only four hours, a reflection of the impact summer weather and high profile events can have on the demands police face.
An added complication for senior officers is that the level of demand fluctuates from day to day, making it difficult to make accurate assessments about how to meet demand.
However, the response to callers needing urgent help with 999 calls has remained resilient.
Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: “The idea of an average wait of two minutes 57 seconds is not great.
“We absolutely understand that is a long time. There are two issues at play.
“One is the massive increase in demand and the other is the fantastic work to preserve the integrity of the 999 system,” he said.
Performance for answering those calls remained “rather good”, he said.
Mr Watson accepted there had been a “bumpy ride” with the introduction of new technology, which had been expected to be introduced around the start of the year.
An introduction date in June was then scrapped and police and contractors are no longer working to a specific date, but looking towards getting a system they are confident will function properly when it does go live.
The existing technology was introduced many years ago and has been repeatedly modified to try to cope with changing and growing demands, but is at the end of its life.
The new equipment is costing £12m but its delayed introduction has caused frustrations within communities, where callers still complain of problems in contacting police when they need to, an issue raised at the last meeting of South Yorkshire’s Crime and Policing Panel, a watchdog body made up of councillors and others to hold the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, to account.
South Yorkshire Police is also currently engaged in discussions with trade unions about changes to the staffing regime at Atlas Court, which would allow managers to increase staffing over periods when they can predict call levels are likely to be high, such as Friday and Saturday nights.