Dorset Police has apologised for delays in answering non-emergency phone calls during the summer.
Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner has said that circumstances have created “a perfect storm” which have led to “unacceptable delays” for 101 calls. However emergency calls to 999 have not been affected.
An influx of approximately 15 million tourists to the county in the summer increases pressure on police and other emergency services, which are funded mainly according to residential population.
In addition to the usual seasonal increase, non-emergency calls to the police have also increased considerably this year compared to the same time last year, with around 1,500 extra calls now being received each week.
Jane Jennings, head of contact management said: “An unprecedented increase in calls has caused a temporary dip in our non-emergency phone service. I apologise for this and reassure the public that we are recruiting more staff to improve waiting times and callers’ overall experience.”
Call increases have coincided with the amalgamation of the Police Enquiry Centre and the Force Control Room to create one Force Command Centre. This new centre opened at Dorset Police Headquarters at Winfrith in June and the change will save around £1.3 million a year, which will help protect frontline local policing.
To meet the extra demand, Dorset Police has been recruiting more call handlers to be based at the new site. A number of people have already been selected and the Force will continue recruiting into this role for the next 12 months.
However, it takes a number of months from a job being advertised to applicants being selected and fully trained, so delays in answering non-emergency calls at busy times are expected to continue over the summer.
Non-emergency calls to 101 or old police station telephone numbers are all routed to the Force Command Centre, where they are assessed by an operator to ensure the most important and urgent calls are answered first. If a call handler is not available immediately, callers are placed in queues depending on the priority of their call.
Calls to 101 cost 15 pence per call from landlines and mobiles, no matter what time of day you call or how long you are on the phone. However, if you choose to end the call and redial, you will be placed back at the start of the queue and charged again.
Jane Jennings continued: “We are encouraging people to use our ‘Do It Online’ service for non-emergency issues whenever possible. This includes options to make a general enquiry or pass a message to an officer. It also allows people to request a telephone call-back while avoiding 101 waiting times.
“I would also reassure people that our 999 service is not affected by these delays and remind them to always use this number for emergencies. People should call 999 when life or property is in immediate danger or when they are witnessing a crime that is currently taking place.”
Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner said: “The introduction of the new Force Contact Centre and an unprecedented rise in call demand ahead of the busiest time of the year for Dorset Police has created a perfect storm.
“This has led to unacceptable delays and for that I apologise on behalf of the Force. I am working hard with the Chief Constable to ensure Dorset Police provides an effective and efficient service to residents across the county.”
To help reduce 101 waiting times, Dorset Police has issued the following advice.
Peak times are between 9am and 1pm, and 4pm and 7pm, on weekdays. Calling outside these hours for general enquiries will reduce your waiting time and make best use of call handlers we have available at all hours of the day.
The Force Command Centre is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To report a non-emergency incident, please call us as soon as possible, particularly if it happens at the weekend, rather than wait to call on a weekday.
Use ‘Do It Online’ from the front page of www.dorset.police.uk to access a range of services including making a general enquiry, leaving a message for an officer or requesting a telephone call-back.