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Industry Research : 245 Missed 999 Calls in Six Months
New figures have revealed the alarming number of 999 calls to police that either went unanswered or missed national standards this summer.
The statistics showed the number of emergency calls not picked up by call handlers in Northamptonshire had increased by 170 per cent this year, coming after 20 full-time control room jobs were cut to save money. Furthermore, in August, 40 per cent of answered calls missed a 10 second target.
Northamptonshire Police this week gave the Chronicle & Echo a tour of the centre and defended allegations that emergency calls were going unanswered, saying August was a "challenging month" which saw the force receive 468 more 999 calls than the same period last year.
Superintendent Mick Stamper added: "August was a month when we had a number of different issues. We had a number of days when the number of calls was far in excess of anything we could have anticipated. August had a number of incidents which saw us receive a large number of calls."
He said a single crash on the M1 – of which there were a number during August – creates a rush of more than 20 calls within minutes.
Supt Stamper said the control room was now better equipped to deal with peak times. New procedures, shift patterns and staff levels, which came into place at the beginning of September, mean the force can now cope with increased calls.
Supt Stamper said: "We have had to reduce our staff to save money and we have changed shift patterns to make sure most of our staff are on call when most of the calls come through. We are now far more interested in protecting the public than we are just pushing telephone calls through."
More importantly, he stressed, "missed" calls were still answered and emergency vehicles were still sent, even if they were not answered in Northamptonshire.
"We aim to answer every 999 emergency call but if it is not answered by us, then it is routed to Leicestershire Police. It has been that way for some time. It is recorded as a missed call, but it is actually transferred by the BT operator," he said.
The force is also much better at dealing with "dropped" phone calls, when the person hangs up or is cut off.
Intelligence officers will trace any dropped call, while staff all have risk scenario training now. He said the focus of the call centre now was more around indentifying genuine emergencies and providing due care towards them.
He added: "I accept we haven’t always had the staff on when we wanted them as we went through redundancies and I accept it has had an effect on the amount of time it took to answer some calls but that has changed now. Our recruitment, our performance monitoring and our systems are now geared to the protection of the public."
Centre was 10 per cent under staffed
Police have promised residents that 999 calls will be picked up and responded to by officers.
Officers said cuts to the call centre had to be made as part of plans to save money.
A spokesman said: "August 2012 was a challenging month which saw us receive 468 more 999 calls into the control room than we received in August 2011. We were also recruiting new staff to the control room as, since the redundancies were made, further staff have left due to retirements etc. This has meant that for a short period we had 10 per cent less staff than the efficiency savings review recommendation.
"New staff are now fully trained and in place and we now have more staff working on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to provide increased resources for our busiest periods.
"We now have a fully staffed control room and throughout September we have routinely answered 88 to 91 per cent of 999 calls within 10 seconds. The average waiting time for September was under four seconds."
The spokesman added: "Northamptonshire Police takes its duty to protect the people of the county very seriously and members of the public can be assured that we will respond appropriately to their call."
Candidate revealed response ‘scandal’
A candidate for the job of Police and Crime Commissioner has hit out at the number of missed 999 calls by Northamptonshire Police, after he uncovered "the scandal".
Staff numbers in the police call centre, which is based at Wootton Hall and handles all emergency and the majority of non-emergency calls, have been reduced by 20 full-time jobs since Government cuts to the force were revealed two years ago.
However, Conservative candidate for the job of police commissioner, Adam Simmonds, discovered the number of 999 calls not answered by police had increased by 170 per cent on last year. The figures were released after he made a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
They showed in the first six months of 2011, 90 calls were not answered at all by the Northamptonshire control room. In the same period this year the figure rose to 245.
Furthermore, in August 2011, more than 93 per cent of 999 calls were answered within 10 seconds. However, that figure plummeted to just over 57 per cent this August.
Speaking to the Chronicle & Echo, Mr Simmonds said: "This is an absolute scandal. Northamptonshire Police has made deep cuts in its 999 response service and as a result the promptness and quality of responses has deteriorated badly.
"I also know from speaking to many victims who have tried to report crimes that non-emergency calls to the police often go unanswered too. If victims and other people cannot get through to report a crime, how can we believe that the crime figures are as low as the police say they are?"
The figures came after an IPCC investigation heavily criticised Northamptonshire Police for the way they failed to investigate an "abandoned" 999 call, made by 18-year-old Xing as her family was being murdered.
The call was incorrectly identified and call centre workers did not have the correct training, the independent probe found. Northamptonshire Police brought in new procedures after the murders.
However, Mr Simmonds added: "I am appalled that of all the efficiencies which could have been made in the policing budget, the 999 response service was chosen. It didn’t need to be. There is plenty of other scope for making efficiency savings without cutting the most frontline, emergency service on which the public demand and expect rapid response."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, September 17, 2012