Non-urgent police calls 'go unanswered'

Telephone operators
Image caption The data shows most calls were answered within the 30 seconds target

Hundreds of thousands of phone calls to the new police non-emergency 101 number are going unanswered, figures from forces in England and Wales suggest.

The number was introduced for people to report crimes such as drug dealing, car theft and property damage.

But people hung up or were disconnected before a reply 496,000 times between January and October 2012 - 4% of calls.

Thirty out of the 43 police forces provided information to the BBC after a Freedom of Information Act request.

But not every force supplied all the details requested.

The other 13 forces were contacted but said they did not collect such data or were only able to provide incomplete data.

Steve White, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the figures "demonstrate that members of the public are clearly finding it more difficult to report crime".

He said: "While the government insists that crime is falling, despite the significant cuts to the police service, the high volume of unanswered calls suggests that many offences may be going unrecorded.

"Crime recording is extremely complex in its nature, as these figures highlight."

'Complex review'

Many forces aim to answer 101 calls within 30 seconds but the data shows six - South Wales, Northamptonshire, Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester and Surrey - took longer than that on average.

The time varied between 35 and 57 seconds but in the case of South Wales Police was 2 minutes, 45 seconds.

In two instances, callers to South Wales and Northamptonshire Police, had to wait more than 50 minutes before someone answered. According to the data provided, the two forces also had the highest percentage of "dropped calls" - those where people hang up or are disconnected.

The data provided shows eight of the forces answered in under 10 seconds on average with Kent, Suffolk, Devon and Cornwall and Merseyside proving to be the fastest.

The UK's largest force - the Metropolitan Police - answered its 101 calls in an average of 14 seconds.

South Wales Police said: "There have been periods where the introduction of new processes and technology have impacted on the number of calls answered and the waiting times.

"Lost calls can be inflated in periods of high demand and therefore inaccurately inflate figures… when we are dealing with major incidents such as Olympic Games, international rugby events, protests and murders we will on some occasions leave a 101 call unanswered whilst we respond."

Northamptonshire Police said the number of calls received "which were answered quickly - or at all - fell well below customer expectations".

The force said its call handling unit had undergone a complex "change review" to achieve savings and improve services which resulted in a breakdown in performance monitoring.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland introduced a single non-emergency number in 2005 - 0845 600 8000.

A 101 non-emergency phone number was introduced in Scotland in February this year.

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