A long-awaited new telephone contact system for police has gone live in South Yorkshire with senior officers hoping for more positive developments with the investment before Christmas.
South Yorkshire Police have been waiting for months for contractors to iron out problems with the Smart Contact telephone system, which should have gone into service in the Spring.
That has now taken place and although callers are unlikely to notice any immediate difference, it removes the likelihood of the system crashing – which was a threat with the old technology.
The new equipment is also intended to help reduce pressure on the 101 telephone system, where callers can face long delays in getting their calls answered, by making it easier for staff to resolve callers’ needs and move on to the next in the queue.
However, the public have already been warned the system itself cannot solve the problem of soaring demand from callers and the next step is to introduce a call-back system, providing the opportunity for those wanting non-emergency help to leave their details so the force can contact them when the opportunity exists.
Details of the developments were outlined to Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, at his Public Accountability Board meeting, where he holds Chief Constable Stephen Watson and his force to account.
Assistant Chief Constable Lauren Poultney the new equipment would allow the force to “drill down” into call handling performance in a way they have so far been unable to do.
“We are hoping to test call back IT,” she said.
“That is ready to be tested and we think we can roll it out if it passes the testing.
“We have to make sure it works effectively before we switch it on, then we can take it to the public. I would like to see call back assist sometime this side of Christmas,” she said.
“It is two weeks since we changed our systems. We are in a period of ‘hyper care’. We need to be able to roll that back and then we can take those resources to test call back assist.”
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said: “It will not be a dramatic impact for the public to see, but it would have been dramatic if some of these (existing) systems had fallen over.
“It is so far, so good. It gives us a much more stable platform.”
Police have had multiple problems to deal with since deciding to upgrade the telephone system, with a surge in demand from callers as well as an increasingly outdated system to take the calls.
A focus was put on ensuring 999 calls were answered quickly, with effective results.
But that left 101 callers facing longer delays and as a result police faced increased pressure from councillors who questioned performance and passed on the frustrations of residents who found it extremely difficult to contact police when they needed to.
Part of the demand on the 101 system is attributed to police themselves, with many callers ringing to question why they have not had follow up information promised by officers.
That is an issue the force is looking to address as part of its longer-term measures to bring demand on the telephone system under control.