Call centre staff at South Yorkshire Police could be facing a shake-up in their shift patterns as force bosses work to tackle known peak periods without employing more staff to deal with the public.
A new telephone and internal communications system has now been operating since November, with a call-back service also now partially in use to allow callers the option of having police ring back for non-emergency matters.
Those changes appear to be having a positive impact, with numbers of 101 calls abandoned by the public running at 15 per cent during a week in January, compared to a national average figure of 25 per cent.
The force has always maintained its strong performance on answering 999 calls urgently, but senior officers are now looking for more ways to improve performance without investing in more staff.
There are already 450 staff at the the Atlas Court communications centre and increasing those numbers to deal with increased demand would mean diverting cash away from front line policing.
An alternative is to reconfigure shift patterns to ensure enough staff are available at known peak periods for demand and consultations with the Atlas Court workforce are to start.
Chief Constable Stephen Watson told a meeting of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings’ public accountability board the new technology: “Means we can squeeze more efficiency without putting more people in.
“We have 450 people working on call handling. That is a lot of money.”
Assistant Chief Constable Lauren Poultney told the meeting the average waiting time to have a 101 call answered was two minutes and 54 seconds, but that did not include the callers who hung up.
Some of those did not even wait for the end of a recorded message all callers hear and police believe it is possible some of those have gone on to use an alternative method of contacting police, such as email. The new computerised equipment will help the force to monitor such details.
She said: “An Atlas review is looking at what our shift patterns should be. We know we have issues from 6pm to 9pm and 101 performance.
“We have the evidence to consult staff and that is the next stage of the Atlas Court review,” she said.
Numbers of calls from the public have been rising for years, but police also know more than a third of demand on Atlas Court is what they term ‘failure demand’, such as staff calling the switchboard to request telephone numbers – a practice now stopped – or members of the public calling to chase updates on incidents they had been involved in, rather than officers actively seeking to keep them informed.
A report to Dr Billings conceded: “Reducing this type of demand creates capacity to manage public calls more effectively.”