South Yorkshire police officers taken off frontline to answer 999 calls
Dozens of South Yorkshire police officers have been taken off the frontline to answer 999 calls.
Thirty-five officers have been seconded to the Atlas Court call handling centre in Attercliffe because of staff shortages and delays in answering calls from members of the public.
The South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation has voiced concern at dwindling numbers working in communities and responding to incidents.
Chairman Neil Bowles said: “I support the use of adjusted duties officers in Atlas Court, who through no fault of their own have become unable to work on the frontline.
“It would be an ideal place for experienced officers in that position to deal with the public at the first point of contact, possibly being able to resolve some situations there and then.
“But what I don’t want to see is fully fit officers having to come off the frontline because we need them out there supporting each other and the public to keep people safe.”
Police stress the move is temporary and a recruitment drive for more call handlers is underway but say waiting times have dropped.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin said: “Ten of these officers are on adjusted duties and are therefore currently not operationally fit. This is a temporary solution which enables us to continue serving the public, while permanent staff are recruited into roles at Atlas Court.
“This interim fix is to enable us to fulfil a longer term goal to be one of the forces in the country with the most efficient and effective communications centres.
“During the time additional staff have been deployed to Atlas Court we have seen reduced waiting times, particularly for 999 calls.
“It is also important to recognise that on a daily basis, 30-40 per cent of calls are resolved without the need to deploy an officer to an incident.
“I am aware of the frustrations people across the county have regarding the 101 service and we recognise how important it is for the public to be able to contact us.
“Consultation is already underway for a new contact management programme, which the force aims to introduce next year. This will make a significant difference to the call handling process for both public and staff.
“We recognise that there is still work that needs to be done but we continue to make important progress and our communications centre remains a fundamental part of our frontline services to the public.”
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings added: “Naturally I will want to know why a situation of staff shortages might arise and how that can be prevented in the future.
“We need to remember that most people contact the police through the call centre. Call handlers are just as much at the frontline as police officers. Inevitably, therefore, until more staff are trained there is little choice other than to bring police officers from other duties. New staff are being recruited and trained but this takes some 12 weeks.”