Police struggling with surge in phone calls

Police enquiry office on a 101 phone call Image copyright PA

Police forces in England and Wales are struggling to handle a recent surge in calls from members of the public, the policing watchdog has warned.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said 999 calls had risen by 10.5% in 2016-17, compared with the previous year.

This meant non-emergency 101 calls were often left unresolved, it said, amid the strain of budget cuts and problems retaining control room staff.

The Home Office said it was considering how forces could improve efficiency.

'Significant stress'

Police receive more than eight million 999 calls every year and the number has been rising since 2014.

Millions of other calls are made on the non-emergency number, 101.

The report said police control rooms were under "significant stress" due to the rise in calls, budget cuts, and the increasing complexity of crime.

Difficulty retaining staff and a reliance on outdated technology also meant some requests for police to deal with non urgent crimes, such as criminal damage and assault, were not dealt with.

Despite the warning, the latest report rated 30 forces as good and two - Durham and Thames Valley - as outstanding.

It found 10 police forces in England and Wales required improvement.

The report also said some forces, such as Somerset Constabulary, had improved their control room response by allowing the public to get in touch through other means, including email and social media.

In Devon and Cornwall, many callers hung up because they had to wait so long.

The force said: "In its report, the HMIC recognises that the force is addressing how the public can contact us in non-emergency situations through training, new shift patterns, new contract terms and new ICT systems."

It added it had made "significant improvements" and provided more information for people to judge if they are calling about a police matter and launched a number of ways to get in touch through other means.

More money needed

In recent weeks, chief constables have argued they need extra resources to deal with the increased demand.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham, who led the review, said it would be a "good thing" for police to have more money.

But he said forces needed to demonstrate how extra funding could help - adding there was scope for forces to use their existing resources more efficiently.

"Where the service needs to improve its own ability is to make the case for what that additional money would bring, what benefits there would be for the public in relation to that additional money," he said.

Police and fire service minister Nick Hurd said the government was "leading a review on demand and resilience, as well as assessing how forces can improve efficiency".

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