Police have been criticised for delays in bringing a new public telephone system into service – by a councillor who has faced years of complaints from residents about problems in getting the South Yorkshire force to answer their calls.
It is years since senior officers realised the antiquated system was no longer able to cope with rising levels of public demand and the force put £12m aside for a new system designed to make the process quicker.
That was designed in tandem with a new internal computer system, which has been in use since the end of last year, when the Smart Connect system for calls from the public was also meant to go ‘live’.
But technical glitches have seen it postponed by around six months and a confirmed date for the switch-over has yet to be announced.
Rotherham Coun Stuart Sansome, vice chairman of South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Panel – a watchdog body which monitors the work of Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings – said the situation had become “farcial”.
“This is a longer-running saga than Emmerdale,” he said, “It is getting farcial.”
“We, as elected members, are getting bothered as to why it isn’t working. I would appreciate if a briefing could be sent out to local authorities as to why it is not up and running.
“People are ringing 999 because they know they will get an answer (on that number),” he said.
The failure of the telephone system to cope with volumes of 101 calls has been well-documented for several years, with complaints about the system dominating many public meetings.
Dr Billings told members of the Police and Crime Panel the situation had improved due to work done so far.
“It would be true to say the performance has stabilised and we know morale has improved,” he said.
“They are being helped by the College of Policing to progress a wellbeing plan and the churn of leavers is not what it was.
“Vacancies have been filled and police officers being brought in to cover jobs, that particular scheme has ended.”
Call answering times have improved, with a delay of around 100 seconds on average for 101 calls in the last couple of months – a far cry from complaints once heard regularly at public meetings of 40 minute queues – though 12 per cent of callers still hung up before speaking to a police worker.
Calls on 999 were answered in an average of 13 seconds, off the national target of a wait no longer than ten seconds and with three callers hanging up before they could be answered.
One issue police are now investigating is how much of the traffic on the 101 system could be avoided.
“If officers are telling people they will call on them about a crime and they don’t show, the natural response is to call 101,” he said.
“They need to drive that out of the system and they are doing a lot of work analysing demand.”